Obama to let Congress see Iran nuke deal Senate bill would leave talks alone, keep sanctions in place
Senators reached a bipartisan deal Tuesday to force any final Iran nuclear deal to be submitted to Congress as lawmakers took the first real steps to curb President Obama’s foreign policy negotiations with Tehran.
Under terms of the deal, which cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on a 19-0 vote, the administration couldn’t lift any of the sanctions Congress has placed on Iran’s nuclear program until he presents all the details to Capitol Hill and gives Congress a chance to have a say. If Congress doesn’t act, Mr. Obama can lift the sanctions on his own.
Lawmakers said that means they aren’t prejudging the deal, which Mr. Obama’s team is still negotiating with Iran, racing a selfimposed end-of-June deadline to flesh out details of the framework that all sides reached this month.
A chastened White House, which threatened vetoes of earlier versions of the bill, said it wasn’t “thrilled,” but Mr. Obama likely would sign the legislation. The latest plan would give Congress a say only after the deal is completed, which means lawmakers can’t disrupt negotiations.
“They’ve relented,” said Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
He said the White House realized it would suffer an embarrassing defeat if it continued to oppose the bill.
Mr. Obama this month announced that the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China reached the outlines of a deal with the regime in Tehran that would push Iran to slow work on its nuclear program and extend the amount of time it would take for the country to build an atomic weapon — a deadline dubbed “nuclear breakout.”
The specifics remain secret, and the Obama administration’s public descriptions of the deal differ markedly from the Iranians’ version, leaving many administration critics to question whether the president has been bamboozled.
The bill the committee approved Tuesday would give Mr. Obama time to finish his negotiations but require him to officially submit a final deal to Congress, starting the clock on lawmakers’ chance to review the proposal. Sanctions on Iran could not be lifted in the interim.
Congress could pass either a resolution of approval, giving its official backing, or a resolution of disapproval, or could do nothing. If lawmakers pass a bill of disapproval, Mr. Obama could use his veto power and force Congress to come up with enough votes to keep the sanctions in place.
Supporters and skeptics of the framework said they can back the legislation, saving potential battles such as support for Israel for an eventual floor fight.
“I would hope that the White House would recognize this is congressional prerogative, that we have if anything reinforced the president’s ability to negotiate and there will be no action taken by Congress on the substance of the agreements until we receive the agreements,” said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.
Some Republicans support the bill but said they feared Congress was ceding more legislative authority to Mr. Obama.
Sen. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican, said the Constitution’s requirement that all treaties be submitted to the Senate for ratification, requiring a two-thirds majority, should apply to the nuclear negotiations. Instead, the procedures worked out in the bill give Mr. Obama all the leverage.
“It is a far cry from advice and consent of 67 senators voting in the affirmative that this is a good deal,” Mr. Johnson said.
The White House has been trying to prevent congressional intrusion by repeatedly sending Secretary of State John F. Kerry, a former senator, to the Capitol to try to cajole lawmakers. The administration says it has maintained consultations, but Congress has insisted on a more formal say-so.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the president wasn’t thrilled with the bill but changes to the time frames and stripping out provisions not related to the nuclear program made the bill more palatable.