House GOP changes course on Iran after conservative revolt

House GOP changes course on Iran after conservative revolt
© Greg Nash

House Republicans are changing course to take up a last-minute plan to oppose the Iran nuclear deal following a revolt from some of the conference’s conservative members.

Instead of a single vote to disapprove the deal, the House will now hold three separate votes on the agreement.

One would be a resolution to approve the deal — which is sure to fail and, in the process, force many Democrats to break with the White House. 

The second would be to express a sense of the House that the Obama administration has not met the requirements of the Iran review legislation by failing to give lawmakers the text of separate agreements between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Those bilateral side deals, which concern the details of inspections at some Iranian sites, are at the center of the House’s uprising over the Iran pact

Finally, the House would vote to prevent the U.S. from lifting sanctions on Iran as part of complying with the nuclear deal.   

The House is still expected to finish votes regarding Iran on Friday, which is the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.

The House was originally slated to hold a procedural vote on Wednesday afternoon to begin 11 hours of debate on a resolution disapproving the deal.

But leadership called off that vote after getting an earful during a morning conference, with conservatives demanding that President Obama provide Congress with the text of agreements between Iran and international nuclear inspectors. 

Without text of the side deals, some House Republicans say, the 60-day clock for reviewing the Iran deal hasn’t begun to tick.

“This clock has not started,” Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) insisted. “It doesn’t start until the deal is handed over and we haven’t seen the deal. It’s very simple.”

Under legislation approved earlier this year, Congress has 60 days to review the deal before the White House can begin lifting sanctions on Tehran. In return for sanctions relief, Iran has agreed to place limits upon its nuclear program and open it up to inspectors.

The White House has rejected calls to hand over evidence of the side deals, saying it doesn’t have the text to share. The administration has maintained that the IAEA’s decision to keep those documents secret is routine and central to how the international agency works.

Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), a former member of the House GOP leadership who lost to Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) for the third-ranking post last year, offered a resolution on Tuesday that would prevent a vote on the Iran deal until all of the documents of the international agreement — including the deals between Iran and the IAEA — are provided to Congress for review.

Even if Roskam’s resolution passed the House, it’s unlikely to pass the Senate, where 42 Democrats support the Iran deal and could block the measure from a vote. And resorting to litigation could take months or even years to resolve — during which time Obama would be likely to lift the sanctions within his control.

The Senate, meanwhile, still plans to proceed with a resolution disapproving the Iran deal. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGun proposal picks up GOP support Children’s health-care bill faces new obstacles Dems see Trump as potential ally on gun reform MORE (R-Ky.) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerDeficit hawks voice worry over direction of tax plan The Hill Interview: Budget Chair Black sticks around for now Overnight Finance: White House requests B for disaster relief | Ex-Equifax chief grilled over stock sales | House panel approves B for border wall | Tax plan puts swing-state Republicans in tough spot MORE (R-Tenn.) both criticized the sudden House effort to delay a vote.

“What is difficult to understand is what the next course of action is if you take that position and don’t register bipartisan opposition today,” Corker said.

The White House also scoffed at the notion the vote should be delayed. 

“Sounds like a plan hatched up at Tortilla Coast on a Tuesday night,” spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters aboard Air Force One, referring to a favorite gathering spot for conservatives on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzWhatever you think the Alabama special election means, you’re probably wrong This week: Congress gets ball rolling on tax reform Week ahead: Senators work toward deal to fix ObamaCare markets MORE (R-Texas), who is running for president, panned the Senate for bringing up a resolution of disapproval that’s nearly certain to fail.

“If Republican leadership decides that a show vote is more important than stopping this deal, then the single most important issue in 2016 is stopping Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. This Iranian deal is catastrophic,” Cruz said during a Capitol Hill rally held jointly with GOP presidential front-runner Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump pens op-ed on kindergartners learning tech Bharara, Yates tamp down expectations Mueller will bring criminal charges Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open MORE

Rep. John FlemingJohn FlemingCoast Guard suspends search for missing Ohio plane Freedom Caucus member to bring up bill on impeaching IRS chief GOP seeks to make it 52 MORE (R-La.), a Freedom Caucus member, suggested Wednesday that allowing lawmakers to review the side agreements between Iran and the IAEA could even flip some Democrats to oppose the deal.

“Let’s say that something comes out that’s so hideous and so egregious that even Democrats wouldn’t dare go along with this deal,” Fleming said. “You don’t know what you don’t know. We didn’t know that the NSA was doing bulk collection of emails until we found out about it.”

But other Republicans’ reactions upon first learning of the concerns Wednesday morning were that it’s too late to try to stall the vote, given that Congress’s 60-day review period had been slated to close on Sept. 17.

“You know what, I think it’s pretty clear that a month and a half ago we understood that Sept. 17 would be the drop-dead date. And the week we’re doing it is a little bit late to bring up the argument,” House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) said after the first GOP conference meeting of the day. 

Roskam defended his decision to seek a delay, noting that he wasn’t able to introduce his resolution until the House was back in session after the August recess.

“This is the first time we’re here. It’s the first time I could make a privileged resolution,” Roskam said.

The Iran deal review law authored by Corker and Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinOvernight Cybersecurity: Equifax CEO faces outraged lawmakers | Dem presses voting machine makers on cyber defense | Yahoo says 3 billion accounts affected by 2013 breach Key Dem: Did Kushner use private emails to talk with foreign governments? Dem senator pitches ideas for gun control after shooting MORE (D-Md.) — the leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — expressly gives Congress the opportunity “for approval, disapproval, or no action.” 

In addition to forcing uncomfortable votes for House Democrats, GOP leaders’ decision also opens the door to a lawsuit against the White House.

“It does set the stage for legal action,” Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) admitted. “That leaves the options open. Maybe the House attempts to or maybe private parties attempt to.”

Jordan Fabian and Mark Hensch contributed.

Updated at 8:23 p.m.