Mr. Corker saves Washington?
© Greg Nash

Partisanship; divisiveness; dysfunction; polarization; showdown: all of these words, and their synonyms have been used to describe the political landscape in Washington over the past six years. These are the words that make millions of American voters — and the millions of Americans who do not vote during an election year — scowl whenever the word "Washington" comes up in a conversation. In my experience, and in the discussions with the blue-collar Americans that my family and I grew up with, it's impossible to avoid the cynicism and sheer disgust embedded in their comments about America's political epicenter.

When I ask these average, red-blooded Americans about the chances of Hillary Clinton or Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in the upcoming presidential election, I often hear something akin to a dismissal. Politicians are either in office for themselves, for their families or for their friends — and if there are any good people in the U.S. Congress, they are so few in number that it renders them powerless in the face of the masses. It's an especially negative view of Washington to have, but if the last six years are any indication, you can't help but understand where many of these Americans are coming from.

Just when I myself was starting to lose hope in how Washington was operating, Americans across the political spectrum were afforded a small but welcome example of the kind of bipartisan compromise that — in an ideal world — would happen every single day. On April 14, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee banded together to pass legislation allowing Congress to review a final nuclear agreement with Iran before President Obama can lift or suspend any congressional sanctions on the country. But, as impressive as the final vote tally in committee was — every single member voted to send the bill to the Senate floor — far more impressive were the deliberations and debate guided by the committee's chairman and ranking member, Republican Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney clashes with Trump Sessions-Tuberville Senate runoff heats up in Alabama GOP lawmakers stick to Trump amid new criticism MORE of Tennessee and Democrat Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinCongress eyes tighter restrictions on next round of small business help Senate passes extension of application deadline for PPP small-business loans 1,700 troops will support Trump 'Salute to America' celebrations July 4: Pentagon MORE of Maryland, respectively.


The original version of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, first introduced by Corker in February 2015, had a lot to be desired. For supporters of the administration's Iran negotiating strategy, the base bill looked like a Republican legislative attempt to undercut the president's ability to negotiate a nuclear agreement that would be the most significant arms control deal since the Cold War. The February version would have prohibited President Obama from issuing any sanctions waivers or relief to the Iranians for a full 60 days — the time Congress has to review the deal before either approving or rejecting its contents. If the president was unable to certify to Congress that Iran was implementing every technical detail of the nuclear agreement and refraining from its support for terrorism against the United States, the Senate or House could pass additional sanctions on the Iranians — an action that would all but guarantee that Tehran would retaliate by nullifying the pact.

In the Washington that we have come to expect, the Republicans would have insisted on passing this version of the bill despite vocal objections from the White House and congressional Democrats. But Corker did something amazing: Acting as the chairman of a prestigious Senate committee, he decided to negotiate with the Democratic minority to ensure that a bipartisan bill could be sent to the floor later in the month. Hours of late-night talks with Cardin — in addition to hours of talks among their staffs during the Easter recess — proved fruitful and constructive. So constructive, in fact, that a revised draft of the Iran agreement act allowed supporters of the president's negotiating strategy to sign on without much reservation.

The final result: A piece of legislation that cleared the Foreign Relations Committee by a 19-0 margin, and a bill that provides certain provisions in the legislation that Republicans and Democrats can brag about. Republicans get the opportunity to vote down an Iranian nuclear accord if they are able to muster the support, and Democrats get an assurance that Congress would need to assemble 67 senators to override a presidential veto in the event of a resolution of disapproval. In contrast to the earlier draft that tied issues like terrorism to the nuclear talks — issues that weren't part of the negotiations to begin with — the bipartisan consensus also strikes the controversial terrorism certification that the president would have to submit every 90 days.

Full disclosure: I was one of those people hoping that Congress would wait after the June 30 negotiating deadline before acting on any Iranian-related legislation concerning the nuclear talks. But even as a full supporter of the administration's policy with respect to the Iranian nuclear talks, I came away impressed from the Corker-Cardin compromise. The product is a respectable plan B that many pro-diplomacy advocates can support.

In the April 20 edition of TIME magazine, Massimo Calabresi describes Bob Corker as a "hardworking, politically savvy and ... instinctively collaborative" politician in the Senate chamber. "The Relentless Tennessee Dealmaker" exhibited each and every one of these characteristics during the congressional debate on Iran, and he (alongside Ben Cardin) deserves applause for giving Americans hope that Washington can still work as intended.

This piece has been corrected and revised to accurately note a possible resolution of disapproval.

DePetris is a Middle East analyst for Wikistrat, Inc., a geopolitical risk consultancy, and an independent foreign policy consultant.