Opponents of the nuclear deal with Iran may have lost round one, but they’re not giving up the fight yet.
After this week’s failure of legislation to kill the agreement outright, GOP lawmakers in both chambers are plotting additional attacks to either undercut the deal or force Democrats to cast the same vote all over again.
“This debate is far from over and, frankly, it's just beginning,” House Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerLobbying World 'Ready for Michelle' PACs urge 2020 run News Flash: Trump was never going to lock Clinton up MORE (R-Ohio) pledged this week.
In the Senate, the second verse is going to look a lot like the first.
Moments after Senate Democrats successfully filibustered legislation opposing the deal, Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellTrump flirts with Dems for Cabinet Lawmakers eye early exit from Washington Confirm Scott Palk for the Western District of Oklahoma MORE (R-Ky.) announced Thursday that lawmakers will be back at it on Tuesday, voting again to take up the same exact bill.
“We’ll revisit the issue next week, and see if maybe any folks want to change their minds,” McConnell said in a furious speech from the Senate floor.
The House’s immediate game plan is more nuanced.
After a revolt from conservative members of the conference who feared that GOP leaders weren’t putting up enough of a fight, House leadership abruptly changed course this week. Lawmakers eventually voted not on a resolution disapproving of the deal — as the Senate did — but instead on a trio of bills.
Those measures set the stage for future action, GOP lawmakers insist.
In particular, the House created the grounds to sue the Obama administration this week, members claim, by voting 245-186 to accuse the White House of breaking the law by failing to hand over secret bilateral agreements between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Speaking with reporters this week, BoehnerJohn BoehnerLobbying World 'Ready for Michelle' PACs urge 2020 run News Flash: Trump was never going to lock Clinton up MORE said that a lawsuit “is an option that is very possible.”
Legal action seems likely, especially on the heels of a successful ruling this week allowing the House’s lawsuit over ObamaCare to go forward. In that case, a federal judge for the first time ever declared that the House has standing to sue the executive branch over its spending power, potentially setting a precedent allowing other legal actions to proceed.
“At this point I think there will be action taken in the courts in terms of having not received the side agreements,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said on Friday.
“There has to be [a lawsuit],” echoed Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), a senior member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. “Everything has to be laid out before you vote, and we don’t have it.”
Three Senate Republicans introduced similar legislation to the House's this week, claiming that the Obama administration broke the law by failing to hand over all documents related to the deal. The new bill also warns the administration that sanctions on Iran could only be lifted if the pact were treated like a treaty, and subjected to a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate.
It’s unclear whether that bill will receive a vote in the upper chamber.
Going forward, deal opponents are also planning to ratchet up sanctions against Iran for its support of terrorist groups such as Hezbollah.
That could prove to be a serious fight for the Obama administration.
Merely re-imposing nuclear sanctions by calling them terrorism sanctions would threaten to upset the terms of the agreement — formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The deal specifically warns the U.S. against “re-introducing or re-imposing” sanctions lifted under the deal. Doing so, the agreement declares, would be grounds for Iran “to cease performing its commitments” to roll back its nuclear powers.
In a statement to The Hill, a senior administration official said that the White House would oppose “any legislation that would interfere with the implementation of the JCPOA and any new sanctions unless it is warranted by specific activities of concern.”
New sanctions legislation isn’t likely to be unveiled for a few weeks. But multiple lawmakers have pledged that they are coming, and will receive at least some amount of support from some of the Democrats who voted against the agreement this week.
Congressional Republicans may also seek ways to tie the Obama administration’s hands through the funding process, limit the ways that Iran can spend the money it receives through the deal and work with states to impose sanctions of their own against Iran.
“We’ll do our best to constrain the president,” said Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), a prominent opponent of the agreement. “There are always spending bills where we could put restrictions on what the president can spend money on.”
“The tool kit is not empty, and it is my view that we ought to use each and very one of them for the single goal of what the president says he shares, which is to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”
To supporters of the deal — all of whom are Democrats — the plans of attack sound distressingly familiar.
“It’s unfortunately a phenomenon that we’ve seen ever since the Affordable Care Act, that fights are never over here,” said Rep. Adam SchiffAdam SchiffLawmakers praise defense bill's National Guard bonus fix Pelosi fends off challenge to leadership Sunday show questions swirl over optics, strategy of Trump picks MORE (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.
“We just keep, like ‘Groundhog Day,’ going through them over and over and over again,” he added. “Nothing is ever resolved.”