Senators clash over Iran votes

Senators clash over Iran votes

Supporters of an important bill on Iran are walking through a political minefield as they work to set up a series of amendment votes that Democrats warn could bring down the legislation.

Approximately 60 amendments have been put forward so far, with almost half of Senate Republicans seeking to challenge President Obama’s handling of the controversial nuclear negotiations with Iran.

While the legislation crafted by Sens. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerGOP lawmaker patience runs thin with Trump tactics Former GOP senator: Republicans cannot let Trump's 'reckless' post-election claims stand Cornyn: Relationships with Trump like 'women who get married and think they're going to change their spouse' MORE (R-Tenn.) and Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinDemocratic senators urge Facebook to take action on anti-Muslim bigotry On The Money: Biden, Democratic leaders push for lame-duck coronavirus deal | Business groups shudder at Sanders as Labor secretary | Congress could pass retirement bill as soon as this year Top Democrat: Congress could pass retirement bill as soon as this year MORE (D-Md.) has been endorsed by the White House, Democrats are warning that all bets are off if controversial amendments are attached.


“Amendments that undermine the administration’s negotiations or structurally alter this careful bipartisan compromise should be rejected by the Senate,” said Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenTop Democrat calls Trump's Afghan drawdown 'the right policy decision' as others warn of 'mistake' Overnight Defense: How members of the Armed Services committees fared in Tuesday's elections | Military ballots among those uncounted in too-close-to-call presidential race | Ninth US service member killed by COVID-19 Biden wins New Hampshire MORE (D-N.H.), who voted for the legislation during a Foreign Relations Committee markup earlier this month.

“While I supported this bill in the Foreign Relations Committee, if the bipartisan nature of the legislation is eroded on the floor, the bill will no longer merit my support.”

Under the Corker-Cardin agreement, lawmakers would have 30 days to pass a resolution of disapproval of any final deal. If a disapproval resolution were to become law, Obama would not be able to waive some congressional sanctions on Iran.

Corker said Tuesday that the legislation, in its current form, has the 67 votes needed to override a presidential veto.

Still, Senate Republicans are worried the bill doesn’t go far enough and want to tie the nuclear pact to a range of other issues, including Iran’s support of terrorism, the release of American prisoners and Israel’s right to exist.

Raising the stakes, the push for those changes is coming from several of the GOP’s presidential hopefuls, Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks GOP senator congratulates Biden, says Trump should accept results GOP lawmaker patience runs thin with Trump tactics MORE (Fla.), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzMcSally, staff asked to break up maskless photo op inside Capitol Capitol's COVID-19 spike could be bad Thanksgiving preview Republican senators urge Trump to label West Bank goods as 'Made in Israel' MORE (Texas) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulLoeffler isolating after possible COVID-19 infection Rick Scott tests positive for coronavirus Overnight Defense: Formal negotiations inch forward on defense bill with Confederate base name language | Senators look to block B UAE arms sales | Trump administration imposes Iran sanctions over human rights abuses MORE (Ky.)


Voting against the amendments could be politically perilous, and Democrats insist they should not have to bear the burden alone.

“It shouldn’t be up to Democrats to kill these amendments,” Sen. Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidBottom line Senate roadblocks threaten to box in Biden How a tied Senate could lead a divided America MORE (D-Nev.) said. “We should get some help from our Republican colleagues.”

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Overnight Defense: Pentagon set for tighter virus restrictions as top officials tests positive | Military sees 11th COVID-19 death | House Democrats back Senate language on Confederate base names Trump keeps tight grip on GOP amid divisions MORE (R-S.D.) acknowledged Democrats are facing “hard votes” on the Iran bill but said Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTop aide: Biden expected to visit Georgia in push to boost Ossoff, Warnock Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Richmond says GOP 'reluctant to stand up and tell the emperor he wears no clothes' MORE (R-Ky.) is committed to letting the process play out.

“I don’t think the leader has any intention of shutting things down until everybody has an opportunity to exhaust their opportunity to talk about the issues that are important to them,” Thune said.

“Some of these amendments are going to be hard votes — whether or not they get attached to this remains to be seen.”

McConnell, who is expected to huddle with Corker and Cardin about which amendments will be considered on the floor, said on Tuesday said the Senate “ought to have a full and open and robust amendment process, and I believe that’s what we’ll have.”

Senators began voting on the amendments early Tuesday evening.

Democrats are pressing Republicans to limit the focus of their amendments to Iran’s nuclear program.

“The purpose of this undertaking, the negotiating with Iran, is to stop that nation from acquiring nuclear weapons that would threaten Israel’s right to exist,” Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Ending Trump's transactional arrogance on our public lands President is wild card as shutdown fears grow MORE (D-Ill.) said.

“The existential question as to whether Iran will recognize Israel’s right to exist ... is all very important conversation,” he continued. “The most important thing is make sure that Israel has a right to survive, and we think these negotiations with Iran will help us reach that.”

The White House has stressed that the Iran talks are limited in scope and warned that linking a deal to policy issues such as Israel could make a diplomatic pact all but impossible.

Cardin said while the amendment on Israel, which was put forward by Rubio, was “well intended,” it could “derail the bill.”

Sen. Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Biden decides on pick for secretary of State Trump keeps tight grip on GOP amid divisions MORE (D-Del.) also sought to pressure Republicans and suggested that the survival of the Corker-Cardin deal would be a test of McConnell’s leadership.

“Leader McConnell has said that he wants a functioning Senate, that he wants regular order, that he wants the Senate to play its rightful role in foreign affairs,” Coons said. “Well, here is the chance.”

Some Republicans are on board with approving the compromise unchanged.

Defense hawks, including Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamMedia and Hollywood should stop their marching-to-Georgia talk Hackers love a bad transition The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump campaign files for Wis. recount l Secretaries of state fume at Trump allegations l Biden angered over transition delay MORE (R-S.C.) and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainDemocrats' squabbling vindicates Biden non-campaign McSally, staff asked to break up maskless photo op inside Capitol Palin responds to Obama: 'He is a purveyor of untruths' MORE (R-Ariz.), have said they will back the legislation without amendments.

Sen. Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsLobbying world President Trump: To know him is to 'No' him Avoiding the 1876 scenario in November MORE (R-Ind.) stressed that passing the legislation is “absolutely essential.”

“Its passage will send a message more important than any amendments, no matter how correct or well conceived if those amendments would doom the bill,” he said. “If this bill is defeated ... Congress will have become a spent force. Iran will see that Congress is no longer a concern for them.”


But many of the Republicans aren’t giving up their push for amendments.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonLoeffler isolating after possible COVID-19 infection Rick Scott tests positive for coronavirus GOP Rep. Dan Newhouse tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (R-Wis.), who is up for reelection in 2016, is pushing for the Iran deal to either be considered as a treaty or to require a majority vote in both chambers for ratification.

Corker dismissed Johnson’s amendment as unrealistic, and it was rejected Tuesday night in a 39-57 vote.

“Now look, if I could wave a magic wand, or if all of the sudden donkeys flew around the Capitol, I would love for us to have the ability to deem this a treaty,” Corker said. “I really would.”