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 KerryLobbying world Kerry: Trump not pursuing 'smart' or 'clever' plan on North Korea Tillerson will not send high-ranking delegation to India with Ivanka Trump: report MORE and Treasury Secretary Jack LewJacob (Jack) Joseph LewSenator demands answers from DOJ on Russia bribery probe Koskinen's role in the ObamaCare bailout another reason Trump must terminate him The debt limit is the nation's appendix — get rid of it 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 JohnsonTim 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 ReidBill O'Reilly: Politics helped kill Kate Steinle, Zarate just pulled the trigger Tax reform is nightmare Déjà vu for Puerto Rico Ex-Obama and Reid staffers: McConnell would pretend to be busy to avoid meeting with Obama 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 JohannsMike 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 HellerDems look to use Moore against GOP Senate hearing shows Fed chair nominee acts the part Senate GOP votes to begin debate on tax bill 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 CrapoOvernight Regulation: Feds push to clarify regs on bump stocks | Interior wants Trump to shrink two more monuments | Navajo Nation sues over monument rollback | FCC won't delay net neutrality vote | Senate panel approves bill easing Dodd-Frank rules Overnight Finance: GOP delays work on funding bill amid conservative demands | Senate panel approves Fed nominee Powell | Dodd-Frank rollback advances | WH disputes report Mueller subpoenaed Trump bank records Senate panel moves forward with bill to roll back Dodd-Frank 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) TesterGOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration Senate panel moves forward with bill to roll back Dodd-Frank GOP defeats Schumer bid to delay tax vote 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) MenendezSenate ethics panel resumes Menendez probe after judge declares mistrial Judge declares mistrial in Menendez bribery case Menendez jury deadlocked, ordered to keep trying 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 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.

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