Senate open to delaying Iran sanctions after heavy White House push

Members of the Senate panel crafting a new round of Iran sanctions said Thursday they're open to delaying action beyond next week after personal lobbying from Obama administration heavyweights. [WATCH VIDEO]

The White House dispatched Vice President Biden, Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes Kerry2020 Dem contenders travel to key primary states When it comes to Colombia, America is in a tough spot 36 people who could challenge Trump in 2020 MORE and Treasury Secretary Jack LewJacob (Jack) Joseph LewBig tech lobbying groups push Treasury to speak out on EU tax proposal Overnight Finance: Hatch announces retirement from Senate | What you can expect from new tax code | Five ways finance laws could change in 2018 | Peter Thiel bets big on bitcoin Ex-Obama Treasury secretary: Tax cuts 'leaving us broke' MORE to the Capitol on Thursday to urge Democratic leaders and members of the Senate Banking Committee to delay action as the administration pursues a diplomatic deal over Iran's nuclear program. Committee Chairman Tim JohnsonTimothy (Tim) Peter JohnsonCourt ruling could be game changer for Dems in Nevada Bank lobbyists counting down to Shelby’s exit Former GOP senator endorses Clinton after Orlando shooting MORE (D-S.D.) left the meeting saying he hadn't decided yet whether to introduce and mark up a sanctions bill next week.

“I haven't decided yet,” Johnson said. “I want to check with the leader [Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidWATCH: There is no Trump-Russia collusion and the media should stop pushing this The demise of debate in Congress ‘North by Northwest,’ the Carter Page remake MORE (D-Nev.)] and others about how we can find unanimity or very close to it.”

Several Republicans agreed the administration made a strong case for delay, a rare example of bipartisanship on a politically loaded issue.

“I have supported every sanctions bill that's been offered while I've been in the Senate; I will support every future sanctions bill,” said Sen. Mike JohannsMichael (Mike) Owen JohannsFarmers, tax incentives can ease the pain of a smaller farm bill Lobbying World To buy a Swiss company, ChemChina must pass through Washington MORE (R-Neb.). “On the other hand, if there is some possibility of progress and discussion, I'm open to that. We can always pass a sanctions bill [later].”

“The whole idea behind sanctions was to get people to talk, to deal with the issue,” he said. “And so, if we're at a point where we're going to see if that's working, then I'm not going to be opposed to giving it time. Now, time is a relative term; if they're asking for the next year, that isn't going to happen.”

Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerThe siren of Baton Rouge Big Republican missteps needed for Democrats to win in November What to watch for in the Senate immigration votes MORE (R-Nev.) said the administration is “making a good case” for a delay but that he was still undecided on whether to hold out.

And Sen. Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoBeware of the bank deregulation Trojan horse Senate Republicans call on Trump to preserve NAFTA Dems rip Trump's Fed pick as Senate panel mulls three key nominees MORE (R-Idaho), the top Republican on the panel who is crafting the bill with Johnson, said he still thinks the panel should move ahead but is “reevaluating” after hearing from the administration.

“I would seriously consider the points they made, and I am considering them,” he said.

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterWith vote against Brownback, Democrats abandon religious freedom Democrat Manchin: Pence attacks prove ‘they don't want bipartisanship’ in Trump admin Tester invited the Border Patrol Union’s president to the State of the Union. What does that say to Dreamers?   MORE (D-Mont.) also favored a delay.

“I think it might behoove us to get the language ironed out and let them do their negotiations,” he said.

Senate hawks, however, were unconvinced.

“From my perspective, next week, they have the second round [of talks with Iran],” said Sen. Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezJustice Dept intends to re-try Menendez in corruption case DACA is neither bipartisan nor in America's interest Senate DACA deal picks up GOP supporters MORE (D-N.J.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the chief architect of past sanctions bills. “I'd have to hear something far more substantive than what I heard today to dissuade me from being an advocate for pursuing a new round of sanctions.”

Sen. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkHigh stakes as Trump heads to Hill Five things to watch for at Trump-Senate GOP meeting Giffords, Scalise highlight party differences on guns MORE (R-Ill.), Menendez's partner on past sanctions, agreed.

“My feeling is to keep pushing on,” Kirk told reporters. “I think it was clear that Bob [Menendez] and I had the votes to go ahead.”

Even if the committee did not vote on the sanctions bill, Kirk said that he would also consider introducing the measure as an amendment to the Defense authorization bill, which is expected to be debated on the Senate floor this month.

“I would look for every opportunity as a senator,” he said.

Kirk said he did not put much stock in the recent developments with the Iranians in negotiations over their nuclear program.

“It just seems a long rope-a-dope,” Kirk said.

The House passed tough new sanctions on Iran's energy sector in July on a 400-20 vote.

—Jeremy Herb contributed.

Please send tips and comments to Julian Pecquet:

Follow us on Twitter: @TheHillGlobal and @JPecquetTheHill