McConnell moves to end Iran debate

McConnell moves to end Iran debate
© Greg Nash

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell rejects Democrats' 'radical movement' to abolish filibuster Hickenlooper announces Senate bid Trump orders elimination of student loan debt for thousands of disabled veterans MORE (R-Ky.) moved Tuesday evening to end debate on legislation giving Congress power to review a nuclear deal with Iran, setting it up for passage later this week.

As a result of McConnell’s move, no senator will be allowed to get a vote on an amendment to the package.

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McConnell wants to pass the bipartisan Iran bill and move quickly to fast-track trade legislation. He has said the two measures could be the biggest accomplishments of the 114th Congress.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerTrump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid Meet the key Senate player in GOP fight over Saudi Arabia Trump says he's 'very happy' some GOP senators have 'gone on to greener pastures' MORE (R-Tenn.), who earlier in the day predicted an “overwhelming vote” on the Iran bill, told reporters after McConnell’s move that he believed other senators would respect the decision.

“I think people realize it's time to move on,” Corker told reporters in response to a question about how Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) were taking the decision.

Rubio  and Cotton had insisted on getting votes to amend the bill to impose additional conditions on Iran, such as requiring it to recognize Israel’s right to exist.

Democrats warned voting on these amendments would derail the bipartisan compromise, putting McConnell in the tough position of having to decide between getting the bill passed in a timely fashion and keeping his promise to allow free-flowing floor debates.

McConnell sought to reach a deal with other senators on amendments, but Corker told reporters that it wasn’t possible to reach one.

“There wasn't a deal,” he said. “Mitch really doesn't have a choice, I mean we've kind of got to finish. ...If we're going to pass the bill, we need to get on with it. You know, we've got other business that we want to move to.”

Cotton walked past reporters without answering questions after a Senate lunch where the Iran bill was discussed. Corker said he wasn’t sure whether the freshmen senator would drop demands for amendments.

“I don't have any understandings at present, I think you would need to talk with him. ...But the first step has occurred, and that is cloture,” Corker said.

Democrats gleefully blasted McConnell for backtracking on his promise to give colleagues broad freedom to vote on amendments.

Adam Jentleson, Reid’s spokesman, noted that when his boss moved to cut off debate in the last Congress, GOP senators accused him of running a “dictatorship” and a “plantation.”

“We sympathize with Senator McConnell’s position. Just like Senator Reid, Senator McConnell was forced to file cloture because Republican senators took advantage of the Senate’s rules to pull procedural stunts aimed at derailing a bipartisan compromise and in effect, shut down the amendment process,” Jentleson wrote in a memo to reporters.

McConnell is facing a tight legislative timeframe to complete the Iran legislation, the trade bill and two other measures that both face deadlines at the end of the month.

The GOP leader also wants to pass extensions of the Highway Trust Fund and the National Security Agency’s surveillance authority before the Memorial Day recess, which begins two weeks from Friday. Both highway funding and the surveillance authority will expire in June without action by Congress.

This story was updated at 7:32 p.m.