The White House’s nuclear deal with Iran could hinge on President Obama’s most trusted Democratic ally: Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiNorth Dakota Republican latest House breakthrough COVID-19 case Pelosi sets Thursday vote on bipartisan infrastructure bill Cheney says a lot of GOP lawmakers have privately encouraged her fight against Trump MORE.
The House minority leader, who has helped shepherd Obama’s biggest accomplishments through Congress, now faces a huge decision on legislation granting Congress final say on the agreement with Iran.
Sen. Bob Corker’s (R-Tenn.) proposal, which the White House has vowed to veto over concerns it would scuttle the talks, appears to have enough support to pass both chambers and is inching its way toward a veto-proof majority in the Senate.
But Pelosi and a long list of House Democrats — hailing last week’s framework deal as real progress toward a historic accord between longtime adversaries — seem ready to give the White House leeway. This breathing space would grant negotiators the time to hammer out the final details without Congress intervening before a June 30 deadline, leaving it unclear whether Republicans could muster the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.
If every House Republican voted for a Corker-like bill, the GOP would need about 45 Democratic votes to override Obama. Some Democrats have already endorsed such a plan, and voting “no” could be used against members of the party who face a challenging reelection race in 2016.
Those dynamics could set the stage for a high-stakes vote in the lower chamber, while confronting Pelosi with the thorny question of whether to rally Democrats behind Obama to sustain a veto, or allow her troops — many of whom want Congress to have a louder voice in the process — to vote their will.
“Last week’s framework contemplates action by the United Nations Security Council,” Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Committee’s subpanel on the Middle East, said Tuesday in an email. “Surely if U.N. Security Council members should have a vote on sanctions relief, members of the United States Congress should as well.”
Pelosi’s office did not comment for this story.
The coming debate will be a significant test of Pelosi’s leadership. The California Democrat’s whipping ability is legendary, exemplified most famously by the passage of ObamaCare. But division in her ranks over the Iran talks has been long-standing.
When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a harsh critique of Obama’s Iran strategy before a joint session of Congress last month, pro-Israel Democrats raved, but more than 50 others boycotted the address. Pelosi attended the speech but condemned it afterward as an “insult to the intelligence of the United States.”
Pelosi has not taken a public position on the proposal empowering Congress to review any Iran agreement. But her reaction to the deal’s framework strongly suggests she intends to grant the administration the space it’s requesting to finalize the details.
She hailed the “aggressive” new restrictions on Iran’s enrichment capacity and inspections regime, saying they offer “a strong, long-term plan to stop Iran from building a bomb.” And she has long urged Congress to allow diplomacy to work as Western leaders seek to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, a position being adopted by a number of rank-and-file Democrats.
In 2002, Pelosi led the charge against then-President George W. Bush’s war in Iraq, which 60 percent of House Democrats opposed.
“The most prudent course of action is to give the president the space to continue the momentum on the diplomatic front for the best deal possible to present to the Congress,” Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas), a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said Tuesday in an email. “As members of Congress, we owe it to our constituents to exhaust diplomatic efforts in good faith, and not short change ourselves before we even know what’s in the deal.”
Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), another member of the Foreign Affairs panel, said through a spokesman that he also opposes the Corker bill “at this moment.”
Highlighting the party split, however, even some members of Pelosi’s leadership team are bucking the White House in calling for a congressional vote on final approval.
“I’ve been skeptical about a deal with Iran,” Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), head of the Democrats’ communications arm and a close Pelosi ally, said in response to the framework. “The details deserve and must get a vote by the U.S. Congress.”
Rep. Nita Lowey (N.Y.), the Democrats’ top appropriator, has also voiced skepticism about the framework deal and suggested Congress should play a role in its final approval.
“Congress was the driving force in enacting the crippling sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table, and Rep. Lowey believes Congress continues to have an indispensable role in shaping an agreement that verifiably prevents Iran from developing nuclear weapons,” spokesman Matt Dennis said Tuesday, stopping short of endorsing legislation.
Sponsored by Corker, who is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, the Senate bill would grant Congress 60 days to debate the Iran agreement before allowing lawmakers to vote on its final approval.
Corker’s panel is set to vote on the bill next Tuesday, and the Tennessee Republican says he already has enough Democratic support to be within striking distance of a veto-proof majority.
“We’ve got 64 or 65 [votes] that we’re aware of today,” Corker said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“I talked to a number of Democrats over the weekend, and I think there are many more that are considering this.”
Corker and the Republicans recently got a big boost when Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the third-ranking Senate Democrat who is likely to become Senate Democratic leader in 2017, endorsed the proposal.
“I strongly believe Congress should have the right to disapprove any agreement and I support the Corker bill which would allow that to occur,” Schumer said in a statement.
House GOP leaders have not yet introduced similar legislation, but the Foreign Affairs panel is expected to hold hearings on the issue this month. Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and other top Republicans have sharply criticized the framework agreement as conceding too much to the Iranians.
“In coming weeks, Congress will subject this framework and the Obama administration’s Iran policy to significant scrutiny and carefully weigh legislative options,” vowed Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
Behind Obama and Vice President Biden, senior White House officials are reaching out to lawmakers in an effort to dissuade such action before the June 30 deadline. And White House spokesman Josh Earnest said this week that those pushing legislation amid the negotiations are pursuing a “political tactic” that could undermine the talks.
“Our case to every member of Congress is to take a look at the commitments that we have obtained from the Iranians,” Earnest said.
A number of House Democrats, meanwhile, are largely keeping their powder dry in their approach to the Corker bill during the long holiday recess.
Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.), a member of the Foreign Affairs panel, has emphasized the importance of a congressional role as the administration keeps lawmakers apprised of the talks. But she emphasized that much depends on the specifics of the legislation.
“The devil is in the details,” Frankel said Tuesday in an email, “and any vote depends on these conversations and the actual bill brought up.”