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Top Dems divided on more Iran sanctions

Ten Democratic Senate committee chairmen wrote a letter to Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidBottom line Biden's first 100 days is stylistic 'antithesis' of Trump The Memo: Washington's fake debate on 'bipartisanship' MORE (D-Nev.) late Wednesday urging him not to allow a vote on a bill that would impose tougher sanctions against Iran.

“At this time, as negotiations are ongoing, we believe that new sanctions would play into the hands of those in Iran who are most eager to see the negotiations fail,” they wrote in the letter, obtained by The Hill.

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The letter is signed by Banking 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 (S.D.), Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinIf you want Julie Su at the DOL, don't point to her resume Senate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap Lawmakers react to guilty verdict in Chauvin murder trial: 'Our work is far from done' MORE (Calif.), Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden officials brace for worst despite vaccine data Michigan GOP unveils dozens of election overhaul bills after 2020 loss How President Biden can hit a home run MORE (Mich.), Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiBottom line How the US can accelerate progress on gender equity Former Md. senator Paul Sarbanes dies at 87 MORE (Md.), Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerBottom line Trump administration halting imports of cotton, tomatoes from Uighur region of China Biden inaugural committee to refund former senator's donation due to foreign agent status MORE (Calif.), Commerce Committee Chairman Jay RockefellerJohn (Jay) Davison RockefellerBottom Line World Health Day: It's time to fight preventable disease Lobbying World MORE (W.Va.), Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Chairman Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperBiden to go one-on-one with Manchin Strengthen CBP regulations to reduce opioid deaths DC mayor admitted to Democratic governors group amid statehood fight MORE (Del.), Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahySenate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap On The Money: Democratic scramble complicates Biden's human infrastructure plan | Progressives push on student debt relief No designated survivor chosen for Biden's joint address to Congress MORE (Vt.), Energy Committee Chairman Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenBad jobs report amplifies GOP cries to end 0 benefits boost Putting a price on privacy: Ending police data purchases Overnight Health Care: Biden sets goal of at least one shot to 70 percent of adults by July 4 | White House to shift how it distributes unallocated vaccines to states MORE (Ore.), and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinWe need a voting rights workaround Romney's TRUST Act is a Trojan Horse to cut seniors' benefits Two more parting shots from Trump aimed squarely at disabled workers MORE (Iowa).

Democrats remain divided on this issue, however. On Thursday, 26 senators introduced a bipartisan bill that would impose new and tougher sanctions against Iran.

That move challenges requests by the Obama administration, which says new sanctions threaten negotiations over a final deal with Iran on its nuclear program. 

Sens. Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezJuan Williams: A breakthrough on immigration? Biden rebuffs Democrats, keeps refugee admissions at 15,000 Bottom line MORE (D-N.J.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, 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.) introduced the “Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act,” joined by 24 other senators. 

The measure would implement prospective sanctions against Iran if its government fails to comply with the interim nuclear deal the United States and its allies reached last month. Over the next six months, Iran is required to limit the amount of uranium it enriches and effectively freeze its program.

“Current sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table and a credible threat of future sanctions will require Iran to cooperate and act in good faith at the negotiating table,” Menendez said in a statement Thursday. “Prospective sanctions will influence Iran’s calculus and accelerate that process toward achieving a meaningful diplomatic resolution.”

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The proposed sanctions would require the U.S. to further reduce the amount of petroleum it purchases from Iran, and apply additional penalties to parts of Iran’s economy including its construction, engineering and mining sectors.

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Every Democrat considered vulnerable in his or her race for reelection next year is co-sponsoring this measure, a sign that they want to appear tough on foreign policy.

The Republican co-sponsors are Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHouse conservatives take aim at Schumer-led bipartisan China bill There will be no new immigration law under Biden, unless he changes course McConnell safe in power, despite Trump's wrath MORE (S.C.), John McCainJohn Sidney McCainEx-McSally aide pleads guilty to stealing over 0K in campaign funds DOJ: Arizona recount could violate civil rights laws Cheney fight stokes cries of GOP double standard for women MORE (Ariz.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioDemocrats cool on Crist's latest bid for Florida governor Tim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  MORE (Fla.), John CornynJohn CornynThere will be no new immigration law under Biden, unless he changes course Tim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls Cornyn is most prolific tweeter in Congress so far in 2021 MORE (Texas), Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteSununu seen as top recruit in GOP bid to reclaim Senate Lobbying world Overnight Defense: NATO expanding troops in Iraq MORE (N.H.), Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerThe unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  The Republicans' deep dive into nativism Fox News inks contributor deal with former Democratic House member MORE (Tenn.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTop female GOP senator compares Cheney ousting to 'cancel culture' Utah county GOP censures Romney over Trump impeachment vote House conservatives take aim at Schumer-led bipartisan China bill MORE (Maine), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranBottom line Hawley votes against anti-Asian hate crime bill Senate passes anti-Asian hate crimes bill MORE (Kan.), Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsSenate GOP faces retirement brain drain Roy Blunt won't run for Senate seat in 2022 Lobbying world MORE (Kan.), 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 (Neb.), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzFormer CEO Glenn Youngkin wins Virginia GOP gubernatorial convention The Memo: Outrage rises among liberals over Israel Cheney drama exposes GOP's Trump rifts MORE (Texas), and Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntTop female GOP senator compares Cheney ousting to 'cancel culture' House conservatives take aim at Schumer-led bipartisan China bill Biden to meet with GOP senators amid infrastructure push MORE (Mo.).

“This is a responsible, bipartisan bill to protect the American people from Iranian deception and I urge the Majority Leader to give the American people an up or down vote," Kirk said in a statement.

On Tuesday, Reid declined to promise a vote on any bill that would strengthen sanctions against Iran when Congress returns from its recess in January.

The White House and Iran have warned that passing such a bill would ruin talks regarding its nuclear program. Last week, the Senate Banking Committee decided to respect those warnings and not take one up. That committee would normally be responsible for such measures.

The new Menendez-Kirk bill would also require that any final deal with Iran end its ability to enrich uranium. Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryChina emitted more greenhouse gasses than US, developed world combined in 2019: analysis Overnight Energy: Republicans request documents on Kerry's security clearance process| EPA official directs agency to ramp up enforcement in overburdened communities | Meet Flint prosecutor Kym Worthy Republicans request documents on Kerry's security clearance process MORE has suggested that such a requirement was a nonstarter for Iran.  

“That deal was on the table a hundred years ago,” Kerry testified before the House Foreign Affairs panel last week. “But that deal, I'm afraid, has ... been lost.”

“At the end of this, I can't tell you they might not have some enrichment,” Kerry said, “But I can tell you with certainty it will not be possible for them to be able to turn that into a weapons program without our knowing it ... far in advance.” 

The bill would give the administration up to one year “to pursue a diplomatic track resulting in the complete and verifiable termination of Iran’s illicit nuclear weapons program.”

Julian Pecquet and Jeremy Herb contributed.