Iran fight tests Obama’s clout

Iran fight tests Obama’s clout
© Getty Images

Supporters of Iran sanctions legislation are betting they can secure the 67 Senate votes needed to override a veto from President Obama.

Sens. Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezHouse passes temporary immigration protections for Venezuelans Senate panel advances bipartisan bill to lower drug prices amid GOP blowback Democrats pledge to fight Trump detention policy during trip to border MORE (D-N.J.) and Mark KirkMark Steven KirkAdvocates push for EpiPens on flights after college student's mid-flight allergic reaction Funding the fight against polio Ex-GOP Sen. Kirk registers to lobby MORE (R-Ill.) are moving quickly to bring their bill to the floor, defying warnings from administration officials who say the legislation could blow up the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.

“We have a fighting chance of getting strong, overwhelming support as we have in the past,” a senior congressional aide said Monday. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee is planning to debate and vote on the sanctions bill Thursday. While it’s not clear when the bill could come up for a floor vote, senators say Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellAre Democrats turning Trump-like? House Democrat calls for gun control: Cities can ban plastic straws but 'we can't ban assault weapons?' Churches are arming and training congregants in response to mass shootings: report MORE (R-Ky.) wants to act on it “very quickly.”

White House officials vehemently oppose the legislation, fearing it could sink the chances of reaching a long-term deal to dismantle Iran’s nuclear program.

Proponents of the sanctions bill have taken issue with the White House’s arguments, noting that the punishments would only take effect if Iran walked away from the talks or violated the terms of a deal.

The White House might have to exert heavy pressure on Senate Democrats when the Iran bill hits the Senate floor.

If all 54 Senate Republicans voted for the sanctions bill, they would need only 13 Democrats to secure a veto-proof majority. Twelve Democrats, including Menendez, co-sponsored an earlier version of the legislation and still serve in the Senate.

The legislative fight has stoked tensions between Obama and Menendez, the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, who was angered by the president’s move last year to ease travel and trade restrictions on Cuba.

The two men had a “forceful” exchange during a Senate Democratic retreat Friday, with Obama reportedly urging senators against actions for short-term political gain, according to The New York Times. Menendez reportedly stood up and said he took “personal offense.”

Supporters of the sanctions bill stopped short of predicting victory but said they are moving forward with a veto-proof majority in mind. 

“We’re going for a law. ... We’ve had longstanding bipartisan engagement on this issue,” the aide said, pointing to four previous instances when Congress has passed sanctions legislation with more than enough votes to overcome a veto. 

Both sides of the debate agree it will be a close fight, with all eyes on the Democrats who are likely to break with the White House.

Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyThe Hill's Morning Report - Progressives, centrists clash in lively Democratic debate Democrats press Trump Treasury picks on donor disclosure guidelines Pennsylvania school district turns down local businessman's offer to pay off student lunch debts MORE Jr. (D-Pa.) an original co-sponsor of sanctions legislation, told Bloomberg last week he supports “moving forward” on the bill before the June 30 deadline for finishing the talks.

Casey and three other Democratic co-sponsors of the original bill recently sounded a hawkish tone on Iran sanctions, voicing concerns that the regime has been violating the sanctions already in place.

“As we continue our diplomatic efforts, it is vitally important that existing U.S. sanctions continue to be strictly enforced,” wrote Casey and Sens. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerLewandowski on potential NH Senate run: If I run, 'I'm going to win' Appropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid Colorado candidates vying to take on Gardner warn Hickenlooper they won't back down MORE (D-N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandGillibrand: Rosy economic outlook not 'reflected in everyday, kitchen-table issues families are facing' Chris Wallace becomes Trump era's 'equal opportunity inquisitor' Steve King to Gillibrand: Odds of me resigning same as yours of winning presidential nomination MORE (D-N.Y.) in a Jan. 2 letter to Treasury Secretary Jack LewJacob (Jack) Joseph LewHogan urges Mnuchin to reconsider delay of Harriet Tubman bill Mnuchin says new Harriet Tubman bill delayed until 2028 Overnight Finance: US reaches deal with ZTE | Lawmakers look to block it | Trump blasts Macron, Trudeau ahead of G-7 | Mexico files WTO complaint MORE

Schumer, a strong backer of the Menendez-Kirk bill and strong supporter of Israel, has previously whipped votes for the sanctions bill. 

Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinAmerica is in desperate need of infrastructure investment: Senate highway bill a step in the right direction Financial aid fraud is wrong — but overcorrection could hurt more students Democrats denounce Trump's attack on Cummings: 'These are not the words of a patriot' MORE (D-Md.), another original co-sponsor, said Sunday he also supports imposing sanctions but was vague on what timing he would prefer.

The senior congressional aide said proponents are not taking any Democratic votes for granted, regardless of whether a senator has backed sanctions legislation in the past.

“The votes are what count at the end of the day. And, unlike last year, it’s a certainty that senators will vote on Iran soon,” the aide said. 

It isn’t certain that the sanctions bill would get unanimous support from Republicans.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham warns Trump on Taliban deal in Afghanistan: Learn from 'Obama's mistakes' Appropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid Trump meets with national security team on Afghanistan peace plan MORE (R-S.C.) said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” he would agree to table the bill if Obama agrees to let Congress approve or disapprove of any deal.