National Security

House GOP wants McConnell to go nuclear on Iran agreement

Multiple House Republicans want Senate leaders to “go nuclear” over the Obama administration’s deal with Iran now that Democrats have stymied efforts to derail the accord by conventional means. 

A small but growing number of GOP lawmakers say that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) should invoke the “nuclear option” to change Senate rules and prevent a filibuster on a resolution to kill the deal.

{mosads}Their angst is intensified by their belief that Democrats will likely be able to block legislation withholding federal funds from Planned Parenthood, a standoff that increases the chances of a government shutdown.

Less than two years after Republicans railed against Democrats for changing the rules to prevent filibusters on most presidential nominees, McConnell has ruled out using the nuclear strategy.

But the call puts more pressure on the majority leader and illustrates Republicans’ growing frustration with their inability to score significant victories in Congress, even while controlling both chambers.

“This was something with the Iran deal, the fact that it didn’t get debated, it didn’t get voted on — there’s a lot of people that are very, very upset about this,” said Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) in an interview on Tuesday, a day after he sent a letter asking McConnell to change the Senate’s rules. 

Buchanan said that he wants to see the upper chamber eliminate the filibuster entirely, though others are calling for a more modest step to get rid of the procedural holdup only in specific cases, such as with the Iran deal.

Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) wrote a letter to McConnell last week calling for a change in rules for the Iran bill. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-
Texas) — chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee — is currently circulating a letter among fellow lawmakers with a similar call. 

“Some pieces of legislation, like the Iran nuclear deal, are simply so consequential that they demand revisions to the Senate’s procedures,” Smith wrote in the draft letter.

“Our request to eliminate the filibuster for some votes simply underscores that in a democracy the majority should decide,” he added. “The super-majority now required to advance legislation is 60 votes, which is not serving our country well.”

McConnell previously faced some pressure to change the filibuster rules during a fight over immigration earlier in the year.

But the furor over the Iran deal has opened the door to wider criticism.

Republicans say the rule change would just be a natural extension of Democrats’ decision in late 2013 to prevent filibusters of presidential nominees except for those to the Supreme Court. 

Now, some Republicans say, it’s merely time for Democrats to reap what they have sown.

“If Minority Leader [Harry] Reid [D-Nev.] was willing to use this tactic to push through something as simple as judicial nominees despite the objections of Republicans, it is time that Republican leadership utilize the procedure as a matter of national and global security,” Palazzo wrote in his letter.

Still, they acknowledge that even making the change would ultimately fail to scuttle the Iran deal, because President Obama could veto the legislation once it got to his desk.

But the shake-up would erode the image of dysfunction in Washington, supporters claim, and show that Congress can work again. 

“Because of the dysfunction, because of the Iran deal … [which] probably was the tipping point, [there’s a sense] that the place just doesn’t work,” said Buchanan. “That’s the general feeling of the majority of Americans today.

“That’s why you see outsiders with 51 percent of the vote in terms of Republicans on our side,” he added, referring to the recent surge of businessman Donald Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson in the GOP presidential race. 

So far the call has been limited to the House, which has little input in the processes of the upper chamber.

But there might be some support in the Senate as well.

Last week, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that he was “in favor of exploring” a rule change. 

McCain hedged his support, however, warning that it “would set a dangerous precedent” and open “charges … of me being a hypocrite.” Yet the seriousness of the Iran deal “argues for us to look at any possible option that we can,” McCain said.

Still, McConnell has no plans to explore the idea.

“He does not support the nuclear option,” spokesman Don Stewart told The Hill in an email.

It’s easy to see why.

As McCain made clear in his radio interview, Republicans excoriated Democrats for changing the rules in 2013, and would open themselves up to charges of hypocrisy if they followed suit. Not to mention the likelihood that someday, Republicans will no longer be in control of the Senate.

Still, declining to explore alternate avenues will surely expose McConnell to additional flak from the right.

In response to a conservative revolt — which manifested itself in repeated boos during a Tea Party-backed rally against the Iran deal outside the Capitol — Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) last week changed the House’s game plan for the Iran bill to open the door for additional actions, including a lawsuit against the White House. 

McConnell has threatened additional votes on the Iran deal that  may be compromising for Democrats, but he has remained steadfast on the filibuster threshold. 

“The Senate leader needs to look at filibusters to be just that — filibusters where people have to stand and talk,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who has repeatedly served as a thorn in GOP leaders’ side, said in a recent interview with The Hill.

“Most of us watched Jimmy Stewart [in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”] and that was our idea of what a filibuster was, not casting a vote and seeing if you get to 60 votes and going out and having a steak.”

Scott Wong contributed.

Tags Boehner Donald Trump John Boehner John McCain Mitch McConnell

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