White House Signals Acceptance of Iran Deal Review by Congress

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U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to the press after a bilateral meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in the Oval Office of the White House April 14, 2015 in Washington, DC.

Photo by Mike Theiler -Pool/Getty Images

The Obama administration signaled it would accept legislation giving Congress the authority to review any nuclear deal with Iran after the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee changed the measure.

The revised provisions “would be the kind of compromise the president is willing to sign,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Tuesday. President Barack Obama’s advisers had previously threatened a veto of the measure sponsored by Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, a Republican.

Senator John Cornyn, the chamber’s second-ranking Republican, has said the full Senate may consider the bill as early as next week.

While Earnest said the changes would make the measure more acceptable, the turnaround from the White House reflected acquiescence in the reality that the legislation could win enough bipartisan support to override a veto.

“My sense is they know that this thing has run away and that it very likely is going to go well beyond the veto threat. But look, I welcome this if it’s possible,” Corker told reporters.

A framework agreement with Iran, announced April 2 by the U.S. and five other world powers, would curb the Islamic Republic’s ability to enrich uranium in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. Negotiators are working to complete the deal before a June 30 deadline.

Kerry Lobbying

Secretary of State John Kerry lobbied lawmakers on the measure this week, saying the goal was to keep Congress at bay during the talks. Israel says the plan would threaten its existence.

The Foreign Relations panel approved Corker’s measure 19-0. He insisted the revisions weren’t significant, saying, “This legislation is exactly the congressional review we’ve been working on since day one.”

Several senators said they may try to amend it on the Senate floor. Republican Marco Rubio of Florida, a presidential candidate, said he may try to strengthen language in support of Israel. Rubio has said Iran should acknowledge Israel’s right to exist as part of its concessions in the nuclear talks.

Take ‘Seriously’

“At some point when someone keeps saying they want to destroy you, you should take them seriously,” Rubio said during the hearing.

Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California said she would fight any moves to change the committee language.

Boxer, who didn’t support Corker’s original legislation, said she will oppose the bill on the Senate floor if it is altered in a way that would jeopardize negotiations.

Senator Benjamin Cardin of Maryland, the panel’s top Democrat, endorsed the bill after Corker agreed to revise it. Cardin said during the hearing that the compromise provides “the right framework for the congressional review.”

The administration had objected to the legislation’s requirement that the president must certify Iran has stopped support for terrorist groups, a 60-day review period that would delay implementation of any agreement, its interference with the president’s authority to conduct foreign policy and extraneous provisions that have nothing to do with the substance of the agreement.

Review Period

Corker changed the bill to reduce the review period from 60 days to 52 days -- and perhaps as few as 30 days -- so long as Congress received the details of a deal by July 10, Corker said during the hearing.

Corker also said his bill, S. 615, would require Obama to certify that Iran remains in compliance with any nuclear agreement “on a 90-day basis.”

While the president would have to report on whether Iran is a sponsor of terrorism, a finding that it is no longer sponsoring terrorism wouldn’t trigger a renewal of sanctions, according to Sue Walitsky, a Cardin spokeswoman.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, told reporters she was still reading the Senate compromise measure and hadn’t decided whether to support it.

The measure is “more palatable to our members,” she said. “Most of us don’t think any legislation is necessary, or should be there. From what I’ve seen so far, it’s pretty innocuous.”

Phone Calls

Obama had urged Congress to be patient, making multiple phone calls to congressional leaders, including Corker. Leaders in Obama’s Democratic Party also received calls as some joined Corker’s effort to give Congress the final say on a deal.

Obama met with leaders of American Jewish groups and with Jewish political backers to build support for the deal.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee said in a statement that there were “serious concerns” about the framework agreement with Iran and urged the Senate to pass the Corker bill to ensure congressional review.

Senator Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, said at the Foreign Relations panel meeting that he supported the compromise legislation although he thinks the Senate should handle the Iran agreement like a treaty and require approval from 67 senators.

Corker’s bill gives Congress “an incredibly limited role, and is a far cry from 67 senators voting in the affirmative that this is a good deal for America,” Johnson said.

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, supporting the measure, said he was told by administration officials that the revised legislation is “benign” and won’t imperil the negotiations.

Corker responded that the reason the administration “has chosen the path that they are now taking is the number of senators that they realized were going to support this legislation.”