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Senate open to delaying Iran sanctions after heavy White House push

Members of the Senate panel crafting a new round of Iran sanctions said Thursday they're open to delaying action beyond next week after personal lobbying from Obama administration heavyweights. [WATCH VIDEO]

The White House dispatched Vice President Biden, Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryBrazil wants U.S. to pay not to raze Amazon Overnight Energy: Biden will aim to cut US emissions in half by 2030 | Oil and gas leasing pause on public lands will last at least through June The era of climate statecraft is here MORE and Treasury Secretary Jack LewJacob (Jack) Joseph LewThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden argues for legislative patience, urgent action amid crisis On The Money: Senate confirms Yellen as first female Treasury secretary | Biden says he's open to tighter income limits for stimulus checks | Administration will look to expedite getting Tubman on bill Sorry Mr. Jackson, Tubman on the is real MORE to the Capitol on Thursday to urge Democratic leaders and members of the Senate Banking Committee to delay action as the administration pursues a diplomatic deal over Iran's nuclear program. Committee Chairman Tim JohnsonTimothy (Tim) Peter JohnsonCornell to launch new bipartisan publication led by former Rep. Steve Israel Trump faces tough path to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac overhaul Several hurt when truck runs into minimum wage protesters in Michigan MORE (D-S.D.) left the meeting saying he hadn't decided yet whether to introduce and mark up a sanctions bill next week.

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“I haven't decided yet,” Johnson said. “I want to check with the leader [Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - CDC in limbo on J&J vax verdict; Rep. Brady retiring Biden to tap Erika Moritsugu as new Asian American and Pacific Islander liaison White House races clock to beat GOP attacks MORE (D-Nev.)] and others about how we can find unanimity or very close to it.”

Several Republicans agreed the administration made a strong case for delay, a rare example of bipartisanship on a politically loaded issue.

“I have supported every sanctions bill that's been offered while I've been in the Senate; I will support every future sanctions bill,” said Sen. Mike JohannsMichael (Mike) Owen JohannsMeet the Democratic sleeper candidate gunning for Senate in Nebraska Farmers, tax incentives can ease the pain of a smaller farm bill Lobbying World MORE (R-Neb.). “On the other hand, if there is some possibility of progress and discussion, I'm open to that. We can always pass a sanctions bill [later].”

“The whole idea behind sanctions was to get people to talk, to deal with the issue,” he said. “And so, if we're at a point where we're going to see if that's working, then I'm not going to be opposed to giving it time. Now, time is a relative term; if they're asking for the next year, that isn't going to happen.”

Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerOn The Trail: Democrats plan to hammer Trump on Social Security, Medicare Lobbying World Democrats spend big to put Senate in play MORE (R-Nev.) said the administration is “making a good case” for a delay but that he was still undecided on whether to hold out.

And Sen. Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoSenate GOP crafts outlines for infrastructure counter proposal Left-leaning group: SALT cap repeal would worsen racial income disparities On The Money: Inflation rears its head amid spending debate | IRS chief warns of unpaid taxes hitting T | Restaurants fret labor shortage MORE (R-Idaho), the top Republican on the panel who is crafting the bill with Johnson, said he still thinks the panel should move ahead but is “reevaluating” after hearing from the administration.

“I would seriously consider the points they made, and I am considering them,” he said.

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterThis week: Democrats move on DC statehood Lobbying world The Hill's Morning Report - Biden's infrastructure plan triggers definition debate MORE (D-Mont.) also favored a delay.

“I think it might behoove us to get the language ironed out and let them do their negotiations,” he said.

Senate hawks, however, were unconvinced.

“From my perspective, next week, they have the second round [of talks with Iran],” said Sen. Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezBiden rebuffs Democrats, keeps refugee admissions at 15,000 Bottom line The Memo: Biden's five biggest foreign policy challenges MORE (D-N.J.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the chief architect of past sanctions bills. “I'd have to hear something far more substantive than what I heard today to dissuade me from being an advocate for pursuing a new round of sanctions.”

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 (R-Ill.), Menendez's partner on past sanctions, agreed.

“My feeling is to keep pushing on,” Kirk told reporters. “I think it was clear that Bob [Menendez] and I had the votes to go ahead.”

Even if the committee did not vote on the sanctions bill, Kirk said that he would also consider introducing the measure as an amendment to the Defense authorization bill, which is expected to be debated on the Senate floor this month.

“I would look for every opportunity as a senator,” he said.

Kirk said he did not put much stock in the recent developments with the Iranians in negotiations over their nuclear program.

“It just seems a long rope-a-dope,” Kirk said.

The House passed tough new sanctions on Iran's energy sector in July on a 400-20 vote.

—Jeremy Herb contributed.

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