Key Iran vote set in Senate, Democrats on track to prevail
WASHINGTON — The Senate pushed toward a critical vote Thursday on the international nuclear deal with Iran, with Democrats intent on handing a major victory to President Barack Obama.
House Republicans launched last-ditch maneuvers to derail the deal, but their efforts looked unlikely to deny Obama a win on his top foreign policy priority.
It's an outcome that was not foreseen in the days after the nuclear deal was signed July 14 by Iran, the U.S., Russia, Germany, France, Britain and China. The deal was met with scathing criticism from Republicans and from the leaders of Israel, who argued that rather than reducing Iran's nuclear capabilities it would empower that country by freeing up billions of dollars in relief from international sanctions.
Yet opponents never had much chance of blocking the deal on Capitol Hill, partly because of a complicated congressional review process that gave unusual power to Democratic minorities in the House and Senate who could secure a win for Obama simply by upholding his veto of a disapproval resolution.
It now appears a presidential veto won't even be necessary. Infuriating Republicans, Senate Democrats intend to put up the 41 or more votes Thursday afternoon to block the disapproval resolution with a filibuster, preventing it from getting to a final vote.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., noted that the Senate had overwhelmingly approved legislation giving Congress the right to review the Iran deal and to potentially vote to disapprove it.
"What a tragedy it would be then if, at the very last moment, some of those same senators decided to filibuster to prevent the American people from having a real say on this incredibly important issue," McConnell said.
Democrats sought to cast Republicans as the obstructionists. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., urged fellow Democrats to vote "no" later in the day on the so-called "cloture" motion that would move the legislation to final passage. Senators are under intense pressure from outside opponents of the deal to allow a final passage vote, even if they intend to oppose the disapproval resolution.
"All senators should understand the cloture vote will then become the final vote that determines whether the resolution of disapproval moves forward to the president's desk," Reid said. "A vote against cloture is a vote for the Iran agreement, plain and simple."
In the House, Republicans had not given up on blocking the Iran deal against all odds. On Wednesday, a coalition of tea party and hawkish Republicans revolted against the disapproval resolution when it started to look like it wouldn't past the Senate. They forced GOP leaders to come up with a Plan B involving votes on several related measures: one to specify that the Obama administration had not properly submitted all the documents pertaining to the accord to Congress; a second, bound-to-fail vote to approve the deal; and a third to prevent Obama from lifting congressionally mandated sanctions on Iran. Debate and votes were to begin later Thursday.
The House GOP argument is that the 60-day clock of the congressional review period on the deal never really started, because Obama never sent Congress the texts of two separate agreements the International Atomic Energy Agency negotiated with Tehran.
"It is a scandal that the administration has not disclosed this information," Republican Rep. Peter Roskam of Illinois told reporters after emerging from an emergency strategy meeting in the basement of the Capitol.
Roskam said he intended to "use every conceivable tool" to stop the deal. Asked why he didn't make his argument earlier, he said: "I didn't think about it. ... As we began to move forward, it just became clearer and clear and clearer. ... This was the first opportunity."
Democrats dismissed the maneuvering.
"We are yet again thrown into chaos by a majority chasing its tail in a last-minute meeting, throwing together three bills that might as well be scribbled on the back of a cocktail napkin," said Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y.
And Republican leaders in the Senate also seemed unimpressed by the House's new strategy.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urged his colleagues in the House to express their concerns about the side agreements by voting to disapprove of the deal. He said he believes that the president and the United Nations will conclude that the 60-day clock ends Sept. 17 and sanctions will start being eased.
Even if Congress received the separate agreements between Tehran and the IAEA, "I don't think that would change our view of whether allowing Iran to industrialize their nuclear program is a bad deal," said Corker, who gave a lengthy floor speech against the deal late Wednesday.
Associated Press writers Stephen Ohlemacher, Matthew Daly and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.