Senate overwhelmingly approves Iran review bill in 98-1 vote

Greg Nash

The Senate voted overwhelmingly Thursday to approve legislation allowing Congress to review a nuclear deal with Iran in a 98-1 vote.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) was the only senator to oppose the bill. He said in a statement that he objected that the deal was not to be presented to the Congress as a treaty.

“A nuclear-arms agreement with any adversary—especially the terror-sponsoring, Islamist Iranian regime—should be submitted as a treaty and obtain a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate as required by the Constitution,” he said.  

{mosads}The Senate bill would require a competed deal to be submitted to Congress, which could then vote to approve or disapprove the nuclear deal within 30 days. Sanctions on Iran could not be lifted during this consideration.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), after the vote, suggested that passage of the bill allows Congress to take “power back” from President Obama. He also said it ensures the Congress will play “an appropriate role” in the nuclear talks. 
Passage of the legislation clears the way for U.S. negotiators to continue to work on a nuclear deal with Iran ahead of a June 30 deadline with little fear of interference from Congress. Negotiators reached a framework agreement in April.

A vote to disapprove a nuclear deal with Iran would not kill it. President Obama could veto such a measure, and the House and Senate would then need two-thirds majorities to override his veto.

The administration initially opposed the legislation, arguing it could interfere with negotiations with Iran. The White House changed course after it became clear that the bill had strong support from Democrats.

The legislation will now move to the House. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) suggested that passing the legislation would allow House lawmakers to “hold President Obama’s administration accountable.” 
“This important, bipartisan legislation will ensure that Congress has a role in reviewing any potential agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” he said. “I applaud the Senate for passing this bill, and thank Sen. Bob Corker and others for their hard work. I look forward to House passage of this bill to hold President Obama’s administration accountable.” 
The White House indicated it would sign the bill, as long as it is not changed with amendments opposed by the administration in the House.
“The president said he would sign it in its current form. The president also made clear if amendments were added to that bill that would endanger a deal coming together that prevented Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon that we would oppose it,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters traveling on Air Force One.
Ahead of the vote, several Republicans ripped the legislation negotiated by Corker and Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), the ranking member on his panel.

Republicans also expressed frustrations that they could not offer more amendments to the bill.

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) filed a motion to end debate after Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Cotton tried to force a vote on an amendment requiring Iran to recognize Israel’s right to exist as part of a final deal. 

The move was a reversal of the open amendment process Republican leadership pledged to bring to the Senate. 

McConnell said Thursday that he would have preferred that amendments be added to the bill, but that it might have invited a presidential veto.

“If we didn’t face the threats of filibusters, or the blocking of amendments, or the specter of presidential vetoes, this bill would be a heck of a lot stronger. I assure you,: he said. “But the truth is, we do. That’s the frustrating reality.”

Rubio slammed the decision not to allow his amendment requiring Iran to support Israel as part of a deal to come up for a vote, saying that some senators are “terrified” of voting against it. 

“Apparently there are senators terrified of voting against that amendment, so they’d rather not have a vote at all. So I am deeply disappointed by the direction this has taken,” he said.
But, he added that he would support the final bill, suggesting that it was better than nothing. 
“At a minimum at least it creates a process whereby the American people through their representatives can debate an issue of extraordinary importance,” he said. “So I hope this bill passes here today so at least we’ll have a chance to weigh in.” 
Rubio’s remarks separate him from his presidential rival Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) who said on Wednesday that the legislation is a “bad bill.” 
But Cruz voted in favor of the bill after voting against ending debate on it.
“I voted no on cloture because we should have insisted on amendments to put real teeth in this bill,” the Texas Republican said. “Ultimately, I voted yes on final passage because it may delay, slightly, President Obama’s ability to lift the Iran sanctions and it ensures we will have a Congressional debate on the merits of the Iran deal.”

Cruz was joined in voting against ending debate by fellow GOP Sens. Charles Grassley (Iowa), Tom Cotton (Ark.), Jerry Moran (Kansas), Mike Lee (Utah) and Dan Sullivan (Alaska). 
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) was absent for the vote.

The legislation has been a source of tension between congressional Democrats and the White House. Cardin, acknowledging that the hurdles he and Corker have had to overcome with the legislation, told reporters that “very few of you thought we would get a 98-1 vote on the floor of United States Senate, but we did.”  

This story was updated at 4:37 p.m.
Tags Benjamin Cardin Bob Corker Iran Marco Rubio Mitch McConnell

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