Defense

Menendez charges put Iran legislation in doubt

Lauren Schneiderman
 

Sen. Robert Menendez’s (N.J.) decision to step aside temporarily as ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee following his indictment on Wednesday could jeopardize Congress’s chances of passing Iran legislation. 

Menendez has co-authored legislation with Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) that would allow the Senate to weigh in on any nuclear deal with Iran, and a separate bill that would restore and impose tougher sanctions on Iran if it walks away from talks or violates a deal.

{mosads}The Foreign Relations Committee is set to vote April 14 on the bill he co-authored with Corker calling for Senate review of an Iran deal. If Menendez is out of the picture long-term, it could sap Democratic support for legislation that the White House has already threatened to veto. 

Typically, the most senior Democrat on a committee steps in when a member takes leave from a post, but Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would make the final decision. 

Corker said in a statement to The Hill that he had “no knowledge of the judicial matters at hand” but said he expects Menendez “will continue to play a constructive role” on his panel.

After Menendez, the next most senior Democrat on the committee is Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), an ally of President Obama who opposes passing any Iran legislation before the final June 30 deadline in the talks. 

She has introduced competing and less stringent legislation with six other Democrats that calls for the White House to regularly report on Iran’s compliance with any deal, and sets up an expedited process for Congress to reinstate sanctions if Iran violates an accord.

However, Boxer is not running for reelection in 2016 and is already the ranking Democrat on another panel.

That means the job would likely fall to Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who was a co-sponsor of the original bill authored by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Menendez that would restore and impose tougher sanctions on Iran.

Cardin also signed a letter to the president saying he would wait until after the end of March to support that bill, and has indicated he would support Corker-Menendez. 

After Cardin, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) would be the next most senior member. She has typically leaned somewhat hawkish on foreign policy. However, she did not co-sponsor the original version of Kirk-Menendez, and criticized an open letter to Iran by Republicans warning it that any deal might not last past the Obama administration. 

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), next after Shaheen, is a co-sponsor of the original Kirk-Menendez sanctions bill, a co-sponsor of the latest version and has also signed the letter saying he would support it after March.

All Senate Democrats last week voted to unanimously pass a nonbinding budget amendment in support of sanctions if the administration could not certify to members of Congress that Iran was not violating any deal.

Last updated at 8:46 p.m.

— Jordain Carney contributed. 

Tags Barbara Boxer Ben Cardin Bob Corker Chris Coons Harry Reid Jeanne Shaheen Mark Kirk Robert Menendez
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