A frustrating Iran deal for Republicans

Ted Cruz, Iran deal, Rally, Capitol Hill,
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After two months of lobbying their colleagues in opposition to the Iran nuclear agreement and doing so with a solid congressional majority, there is no sense in sugarcoating it: Congressional Republicans have lost their battle with the Obama administration over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The impressive enforcement provisions of the JCPOA, the diligent and hardworking whip operation of Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and President Obama’s own personal engagement in selling the Iran deal to skeptical Democrats in Congress proved to be a deadly combination to GOP attempts on passing a resolution of disapproval. With a Sept. 10 cloture vote that came up two votes shy of ending debate (42 Democratic senators stuck together to block a final vote on the disapproval resolution), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was left with nothing to show for his efforts except a disappointed caucus.

{mosads}In fact, McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the entire Republican congressional leadership are beyond disappointed; they are downright angry. McConnell, Boehner and their rank-and-file are angry that they could not succeed in convincing enough Democrats on the other side of the aisle of their ultimate argument: that the JCPOA was a weak capitulation that virtually handed the Iranian government a nuclear weapon. But, perhaps most of all, they are angry that the foreign policy issue that Obama devoted so much political capital toward achieving will be implemented on time despite public opinion polls showing Americans opposing the terms of the agreement and a vote many in Washington assumed the GOP majority would win.

The anger is understandable, and it is a feeling stopping Republicans lawmakers from using the white flag. The caucus is not giving up just yet. According to Boehner, “we [the GOP] will use every tool at our disposal to stop, slow and delay this agreement from being fully implemented.” Or, as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) wrote in a letter to Boehner and McConnell just before the Senate failed to invoke cloture, “we must do everything possible to stop implementation of President Obama’s deal with Iran.”

What is most frustrating to Republicans right now is that “doing everything possible” will still fall short. Every option that the Republican leadership is considering in both the House and the Senate — including the possibility of suing Obama over a complaint that he failed to provide Congress with the side agreements drawn out between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) — will not change the speed with which the JCPOA will be carried out. The Iranian nuclear deal, whether one likes its contents or not (and I do), is now an agreement that will be enforced.

The House of Representatives is stuck between voting on simple “sense of Congress” resolutions that have no legal value whatsoever and setting up votes that are designed to embarrass Democrats. A “finding that the President has not complied with article 2 of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015″ — otherwise known as the Corker-Cardin review bill — has already passed on a party line vote (245-186), but this legislative vehicle does nothing but send a symbolic notice to Obama that Republicans in the House do not believe that he followed the law. The fact that not one Democrat voted for the resolution — not even amongst those who opposed the JCPOA — dilutes the significance of this finding to nothing more then a partisan attempt. You could call it a consolation prize for Republicans.

House Republicans have also tried to roll back the JCPOA in other ways, namely by introducing pieces of legislation that prohibit Obama’s ability to waive or suspend economic sanctions on Iran. Another set up a resolution of approval, which predictably failed and showed the American people that Democrats and Obama are on the losing side of the Iran debate as far as the House of Representatives is concerned. There is even a joint resolution authored by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) that authorizes the use of military force if the president is unable to certify that Tehran is following its JCPOA commitments. None of these resolutions or bills, of course, will go anywhere in the Senate — nor will they be signed by a president who will do everything he can to defend the agreement that he spent nearly two years negotiating.

Senate Republicans haven’t been much better. As he has done in previous cases — most notably with Obama’s executive actions on immigration and the Justice for Victims Act earlier this year — McConnell is forcing tough votes on the Iran agreement by introducing poison-pill amendments with the sole purpose of making a Democratic filibuster look politically untenable. Yet, similar to Republican attempts in the House, McConnell’s approach does nothing to bolster the enforcement of the Iran agreement. Setting up repeat votes that the Republican majority knows will fail to pass is an exercise in futility and a waste of time — particularly at a moment when the federal government will soon run out of money in a few short weeks.

Republicans have a choice, and it’s a simple one: continue to introduce bills that will never be taken up and hope that the court system will rule against Obama for acting in contravention of the law. Or GOP congressional leadership can do the responsible thing and work with President Obama and his successor to ensure that the JCPOA is being implemented without any ambiguity. Which option would better safeguard the security of the United States, Israel and the Persian Gulf?

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

Tags Iran Iran agreement Iran deal Iran nuclear agreement Iran nuclear deal JCPOA John Boehner Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Mitch McConnell
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