Senate Votes to Let Congress Review a Nuclear Deal With Iran

U.S. President Barack Obama listens to a question during a joint news conference with Shinzo Abe, Japan's prime minister, not pictured, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, April 28, 2015.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The Senate passed legislation to let Congress review a U.S. nuclear deal with Iran, a bipartisan move by lawmakers to assert their authority over foreign policy.

The 98-1 vote sends the measure to the Republican-led House, where Speaker John Boehner has said Congress should have a chance to block an agreement that President Barack Obama’s administration reaches with the Islamic Republic. Freshman Senator Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, was the lone opponent.

“Our goal is to stop a bad agreement that could pave the way to a nuclear-armed Iran, set off a regional nuclear arms race, and strengthen and legitimize the government of Iran,” Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said in a statement following the Senate vote.

The measure would bar Obama from suspending congressionally enacted economic sanctions against Iran while lawmakers review a deal. After threatening to veto an earlier version of the measure, Obama agreed to accept it after Republicans and Democrats agreed on revisions.

Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said the proposal is intended to ensure that Iranian negotiators know that sanctions relief depends on congressional oversight of their compliance with a deal’s terms.

“It is not a prize for signing on the dotted line,” he said.

Rubio, Cruz

Although Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last month promised a “robust” amendment process, the Senate didn’t allow votes on amendments sought by Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, who are 2016 Republican presidential contenders. Both voted for the bill anyway.

Rubio said his amendment to force Iran to publicly recognize Israel was important because easing sanctions on Iran will provide an influx of money for the Islamic Republic to fund terrorism.

“The prime target of the terrorism they sponsor is the state of Israel,” Rubio said. “I am disappointed by the direction this debate has taken.”

The Senate also didn’t allow a vote on a proposal by Cotton, who drew criticism from Democrats for writing an open letter to Iran’s leaders -- signed by 46 other Republicans -- saying any deal with Obama couldn’t be counted on because a future president or Congress could overturn it.

‘Dangerous Deal’

“I will work with Republicans and Democrats to stop a dangerous deal that would put Iran on the path to obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Cotton said in a statement following the vote.

The compromise, worked out by Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, and Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, the panel’s top Democrat, cut from 60 days to as few as 30 days the time Congress would have to review a final deal with Iran.

The measure removed language requiring Iran to renounce ties to terrorist groups before sanctions could be lifted, a provision White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest had called unrealistic.

Boehner said last week that it was too early to speculate on whether the House would have the votes to pass the measure, H.R. 1191.

McConnell of Kentucky scheduled Thursday’s vote against the wishes of fellow Republicans including Cruz, Cotton and Rubio.

The proposal by Rubio of Florida would would have barred any sanctions relief until the president “determines Iran’s leaders have publicly accepted Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.”

Lifting Sanctions

Cruz of Texas wanted to require congressional approval for lifting any sanctions as part of an Iran deal, instead of giving Congress a chance to block sanctions relief.

Cruz accused Democrats of being “terrified” that votes on the proposed amendments would expose what he described as a comparative lack of support for Israel. That country’s leaders oppose the deal with Iran that the U.S. and five other world powers are attempting to complete.

Some Republican backers of the bill, including South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, tried to persuade their colleagues not to propose amendments that would erode bipartisan support. Graham is considering a presidential run.

The push to amend the bill had been opposed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, an influential pro-Israel group that spent $3.1 million last year on lobbying, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington nonprofit group that tracks lobbying and campaign spending.

Bipartisan Support

AIPAC opposed amendments, like those offered by Rubio and Cruz, that would jeopardize bipartisan support for the bill, according to a person with the organization who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The measure “provides Congress a mechanism to assert its historic foreign policy role and review any agreement to ensure it meets U.S. objectives,” AIPAC said in a statement after the vote.

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.

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