Senate is speeding toward Iran showdown

Senate is speeding toward Iran showdown
© Getty Images

Republicans are planning to move forward with an Iran sanctions bill this week despite objections from Democrats and a veto threat from President Obama.

The Senate Banking Committee is set to vote on the sanctions bill Thursday in what will be an early test of Democratic support for the legislation.

ADVERTISEMENT

GOP senators are eager to have the Iran debate, which could be a chance to hit Obama as weak on foreign policy and make members of his party squirm.

The bill has the full-throated support of at least one Democrat, Sen. Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezBiden threatens more sanctions on Ethiopia, Eritrea over Tigray conflict Failed drug vote points to bigger challenges for Democrats Overnight Defense & National Security — Blinken heads to the hot seat MORE (N.J.), along with Republican co-sponsor Sen. 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 (Ill.), who is facing a tough reelection race in 2016.

The legislation would impose additional sanctions on Iran if the country fails to reach a comprehensive deal to roll back its nuclear program with the United States and other world powers.

Opponents of the bill say it would strengthen hardliners in Iran who oppose the talks, and the White House has repeatedly warned it could squander the chance for a peaceful end to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The bill’s supporters note the sanctions would not be imposed until after the June 30 deadline for the talks, and no earlier than July 6, and say the threat of additional sanctions strengthens America’s hand in the negotiations.

The terms are softer than an earlier version of the bill, which 17 Democrats co-sponsored, by allowing the president to indefinitely waive the sanctions for 30 days at a time if a deal is near. 

Still, Obama is pushing senators to withhold support for the bill, and some Democrats last week suggested they were having second thoughts about the timing of the legislation.

Of the 10 Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee, one of the most telling votes could come from Sen. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week CEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' If .5 trillion 'infrastructure' bill fails, it's bye-bye for an increasingly unpopular Biden MORE (D-N.Y.), who has been a vocal supporter of the previous sanctions bill and has pledged to be Israel’s guardian in the Senate.

Schumer told The Hill on Monday he intends to be a co-sponsor of Menendez’s bill.

“It’s up to when Menendez introduces it,” he said.

Republicans have a two-seat advantage on the Banking panel, so it’s possible the sanctions bill could advance to the Senate floor by a 12-10 margin, if Democrats withhold support.

If the Iran bill were to pass on the floor, Republicans would need 13 Democratic supporters to override a veto, which could prove difficult, particularly with alternative legislation now emerging in the Senate.

Sens. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerFormer California senator prods Feinstein to consider retirement Trump decries 'defund the police' after Boxer attacked Former Sen. Barbara Boxer attacked in California MORE (D-Calif.) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulWhite House debates vaccines for air travel Senate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken Rand Paul: 'Hatred for Trump' blocking research into ivermectin as COVID-19 treatment MORE (R-Ky.) announced last week that they would propose their own Iran measure, which would renew sanctions if Iran were to violate the current interim agreement.

Given the support of Paul, a top GOP contender for the White House, the bill could give Democrats bipartisan cover to oppose the broader sanctions legislation, should it come up for a vote.

Other Republicans to watch in the Iran debate include Sens. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  MORE (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee who recently accompanied Obama on a presidential trip, and Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Tight security for Capitol rally; Biden agenda slows Trump offers sympathy for those charged with Jan. 6 offenses MORE (R-S.C.). 

Corker, who sits on the Senate Banking Committee, plans to push his own bill that would allow Congress the final say on any deal reached with Iran. Graham voiced strong support for Corker’s measure during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last week. 

Thus far, Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump seeking challenger to McConnell as Senate GOP leader: report Budget chairman: Debt ceiling fight 'a ridiculous position to be in' Buckle up for more Trump, courtesy of the Democratic Party MORE (R-Ky.) has only promised a vote on the Iran bill from Kirk and Menendez.