A partisan turn for Iran sanctions in Senate

The push for new sanctions on Iran is taking a sharply partisan turn in the Senate, where Republicans are now demanding a vote, while a key Democrat is circulating a petition against it.

Republican senators wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Wednesday evening saying it's time for a vote. The letter, which was signed by 42 lawmakers, criticizes Reid for stripping Republicans of their ability to hold up the president's nominees.

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“Mr. Leader, you have already taken unprecedented steps to take away the rights of the minority in the Senate. Please do not take further steps to take away the rights of a bipartisan majority as well,” they wrote. “We urge you to schedule a vote during this work period on the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act. It’s time for the elected representatives of the American people to have a say in the future of Iran’s nuclear weapons program — it’s time to vote.”

The bill has 59 co-sponsors. That includes 16 Democrats — none of whom have called for an immediate vote, however. 

The legislation would slap new sanctions on Iran if it reneges on the interim nuclear deal or fails to reach a final deal that meets the Senate's demands. President Obama has vowed to veto the bill, saying it would derail negotiations.

The ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations panel, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), was the only Republican who did not sign the letter despite endorsing the bill. Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) have not signed on to the legislation, saying they're waiting to see if Obama's diplomacy with Iran pans out first.

House leaders have taken a wait-and-see approach in hopes of preserving the traditionally bipartisan approach to Iran policy. The last Iran sanctions bill passed 400-20 last summer.

Meanwhile, Foreign Relations panel member Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) has teamed up with the liberal group MoveOn.org to circulate a petition on Capitol Hill calling for a pause in sanctions, Think Progress reports.

“The interim agreement with Iran gives the United States and our allies a chance to resolve the nuclear standoff with Iran without resorting to military action,” says the petition, which had more than 58,000 signatures as of Thursday morning. “The Senate should give negotiations the opportunity to succeed before voting on any additional sanctions or other efforts that would undermine diplomacy.”

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