Senate Dems hesitate on Iran vote

Facing heavy pressure from President Obama, Senate Democrats on Tuesday signaled they have reservations about moving forward with Iran sanctions legislation.

Some senators who had previously backed a sanctions bill treaded carefully when asked whether they support holding a vote on legislation before the Iran talks wrap up in June.

"Well let's wait and see when there's a bill. There's no bill yet," said Sen. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerAn August ultimatum: No recess until redistricting reform is done Biden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report Schumer's moment to transform transit and deepen democracy MORE (D-N.Y.). "Let's wait and see how the whole thing plays out."

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"There's a question and a debate about timing, and that's something we should continue to discuss," said Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseySenate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines Biden celebrates anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act Lawmakers introduce bipartisan Free Britney Act MORE (D-Penn.). 

"I don't have a sense that there's anything that will happen in the near term," Casey added.

The legislation, sponsored by Sens. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezLobbying world This week: Congress starts summer sprint The Innovation and Competition Act is progressive policy MORE (D-N.J.) and Mark KirkMark Steven KirkDuckworth announces reelection bid Brave new world: Why we need a Senate Human Rights Commission  Senate majority battle snags Biden Cabinet hopefuls MORE (R-Ill.), would sanction Iran if the country walks away from the negotiations over its nuclear program or violates the terms of any deal. 

The Senate banking committee had scheduled a hearing for Tuesday to debate and vote on sanctions, but postponed the session until next week, with outside opponents of the bill citing a lack of bipartisan support.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the panel’s chairman, said the hearings were "rescheduled to give senators more time." 

The committee's ranking Democrat, Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownTop Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure Schumer's moment to transform transit and deepen democracy Democrats ramp up pressure for infrastructure deal amid time crunch MORE (Ohio), opposes passing a sanctions bill ahead of the June 30 deadline.

"There's not a rush on this. I mean these negotiations are going forward, I don't want to disrupt the negotiations. ... Our long-term allies are saying 'Don't do this.' So I don't know what the hurry is except for Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden sets new vaccine mandate as COVID-19 cases surge Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire Trump takes two punches from GOP MORE's politics," Brown said. 

Brown said he wants to see what administration officials have to say at a classified briefing on Iran next week.

"I want to hear the briefings before I commit for sure on Menendez-Kirk," he said. 

The White House is pushing Senate Democrats to withhold their support, arguing passage has the potential to end the chances for reaching a historic diplomatic accord with Iran.

Obama last week threatened to veto the bill if it reaches his desk, and spoke with Senate Democrats about the issue behind closed doors.

Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinSenate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines Democrats pushing for changes to bipartisan infrastructure deal The Hill's Morning Report - 2024 GOPers goal: Tread carefully, don't upset Trump MORE (D-Md.), who was a co-sponsor on a sanctions bill in the last Congress, said Democrats are debating when new sanctions legislation should be voted on. 

"The administration has a point. I think we should listen to what they have to say, and hopefully we can reach some agreement on when's the best timing for its consideration," he said. 

Sen. Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsBottom line Kavanaugh conspiracy? Demands to reopen investigation ignore both facts and the law Key Biden ally OK with dropping transit from infrastructure package MORE (D-Del.) said he was "actively considering" whether to support holding a vote ahead of the June 30 deadline.

Without the support of at least 13 Democrats, the sanction bill will not reach a veto-proof majority of 67 votes. Last year, 17 Democrats, including Menendez, cosponsored the bill, but five of them lost reelection in November. 

Menendez isn’t backing down, and told The Hill he would introduce his bill when he's "ready." 

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said he would discuss the Iran bill with Menendez and other colleagues on Tuesday and throughout the week. 

"I think that the principles and convictions incorporated in the bill are significant and they deserve a hearing. The question of timing is one we need to discuss," he said.  

Other Democrats played down dissension in the caucus, saying there is broad agreement that if no deal is reached, Iran should pay the price.

"We all want the same thing. We want a non-nuclear Iran, and we prefer to get there diplomatically rather than by any other outcome. So this is really a question of strategy rather than end-goal," said Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Defense: Watchdog blasts government's handling of Afghanistan conflict | Biden asks Pentagon to look into mandatory vaccines | Congress passes new Capitol security bill GOP, Democrats battle over masks in House, Senate Senators introduce bipartisan bill to expand foreign aid partnerships MORE (D-Va.). 

Kaine, who did not support the previous Menendez-Kirk bill, said he is looking at the new version because it is "different from the previous one." 

Still, the senators said he fears a new sanctions bill could shift the focus away from Iran's behavior. 

"And I don't want to do anything that makes people question whether we are negotiating fairly," he said.