After Final Senate Vote Fails, The Iran Nuclear Agreement Is A Done Deal

The final effort to block the Iran Nuclear Deal failed in the Senate yesterday, meaning that the deal will now move forward.

Iran Nuclear Deal Congress

The final attempt by Senate Republicans to kill the Iran nuclear deal failed yesterday, meaning that the deal will now go forward:

U.S. Senate Democrats on Thursday blocked legislation meant to kill the Iran nuclear deal for a third time, securing perhaps the greatest foreign policy win of President Barack Obama’s six years in office and clearing the way to implement the accord.

By a 56-42 vote, the Republican-majority Senate fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance in the 100-member chamber.

Despite an intense and expensive lobbying effort against it, all but four of Obama’s fellow Democrats backed the nuclear pact between the United States, five other world powers and Tehran announced in July.

With no more Senate votes this week, the result ensured Congress will not pass a resolution of disapproval that would have crippled the deal by eliminating Obama’s ability to waive many sanctions.

A resolution would have had to pass both the Senate and House of Representatives by midnight Thursday, and survive Obama’s veto, to be enacted.

The House, where Republicans also have a majority, never voted on the resolution, opting to pass three symbolic Iran-related measures that would not have affected the nuclear deal.

Two presidential hopefuls, Senators Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, missed the vote after a debate in California last night in which Republicans bashed the Iran deal. Two others, Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham, voted with every other Senate Republican to advance the resolution.

Four Democrats, Senators Ben Cardin, Joe Manchin, Robert Menendez and Charles Schumer, voted with the Republicans to advance the disapproval resolution all three times.

Angry Republicans accused Democrats of denying the disapproval measure its due consideration in order to keep Obama from having to use his veto power.

“It will go into effect without the American people having their say,” said John Cornyn, the Senate’s second-ranked Republican.

Democrats accused Republicans of staging futile votes to embarrass the White House, while wasting time that could have been spent reaching a budget compromise to avoid a government shutdown on Sept. 30.

This outcome, of course, was largely foreordained. We’ve known for weeks now that Senate Democrats had at least enough votes to sustain a Presidential veto of a disapproval resolution, and shortly after Congress returned from recess it became clear that there was enough support to filibuster the resolution and prevent it from passing the Senate altogether. Last week, we saw Senate Democrats do just that while Republicans in the House struggled to even put together a strategy after conservatives in the GOP Caucus tried a last minute gambit that even Mitch McConnell agreed has no chance of succeeding. Since then, the Senate has tried to break the Democratic filibuster unsuccessfully while many conservatives have attacked McConnell for his apparent refusal to consider the so-called “nuclear option” of eliminating the filibuster entirely or even just for the vote on the nuclear deal. The fact that these were many of the same people who were defending the filibuster when Republicans were in the minority, and that the people leading the charge were members of the House rather than the Senate, made their attacks against McConnell seem rather silly.

In the end, of course, this outcome was largely inevitable. It never seemed likely that Republicans would be able to persuade 13 Democrats in the Senate and 44 Democrats in the House to vote against the deal, and even less likely that they would be able to persuade that many to agree to override a Presidential veto on such an important high-stakes issue. Additionally, while there has been some complaint that this deal should have been submitted to the Senate as a treaty, which would have required 67 votes for ratification, there seems to ample historical and legal evidence that the deal is not in fact a treaty, but rather a executive agreement. Under that theory, President Obama theoretically might not have needed to submit the agreement to Congress at all, so the review process granted by the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act actually gave Congress more of a say than it otherwise would have.

Whatever the political arguments may be at this point, though, the deal is going forward and the Administration is taking steps to implement it:

Following a final failed attempt by Senate Republicans to kill the Iran nuclear agreement Thursday, the administration moved aggressively toward putting it into effect, naming a new czar to oversee implementation and announcing that President Obama would issue waivers suspending all U.S. nuclear-related sanctions on Oct. 18.

The waivers will not go into effect until what the agreement itself calls “Implementation Day,” when the International Atomic Energy Agency certifies that Iran has complied with all of its obligations — including removal of 98 percent of its enriched uranium stockpile, shutting down its underground enrichment facility and rendering inoperative the core of a plutonium-capable reactor.

Senior administration officials said those processes could take well into 2016 once they begin next month, under the terms of the deal completed in July.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry appointed a career foreign service officer, Stephen D. Mull, as implementation coordinator among U.S. agencies and negotiating partners, reporting directly to the secretary’s office. Before his most recent job as U.S. ambassador to Poland, Mull played a key role in early negotiations with Iran.

(…)

Under provisions of the agreement, it must be formally adopted by all parties — including the United States, the five other world powers who participated in the negotiations, and Iran — 90 days after the U.N. Security Council approved it in July. That day is Oct. 18.

From then on, said one of several senior administration officials who briefed reporters on implementation steps, “the ball is in Iran’s court.” The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity under rules set by the State Department.

The IAEA must verify all compliance steps in the deal have been taken, along with verification that Iran has satisfied the agency’s questions about previous nuclear activities at military installations, “before sanctions relief is offered,” an administration official said. “Implementation day is unknown at this point.”

Signing of the waivers in advance — along with steps expected on Oct. 18 by the European Union to prepare to lift its own nuclear-related sanctions — were included in the deal as a demonstration of good faith as Iran begins its dismantlement.

On the day sanctions are removed, Iranian oil sales and financial transactions with much of the world are free to resume and frozen Iranian assets will be released, although prohibitions against arms sales and the transfer of missile technology will remain in effect for five and eight years, respectively

U.S. interaction with Iran will be limited as sanctions related to Iranian support for terrorism will remain in effect. The U.S. waivers, which the president must renew every three to six months, can be reversed if Iran fails to comply with the agreement.

Going forward, we can expect to see many debates about whether or not Iran is complying with the agreement that are likely to be just as contentious as the debate over the deal itself and the debates that have taken place in the U.S. and elsewhere over Iran’s nuclear program for years now. Critics of the deal, no doubt, will claim that Iran isn’t complying with the agreement from the beginning, but the real test will be when it comes time for Tehran to comply with inspection requests and other requirements imposed on them by the International Atomic Energy Association and the United Nations pursuant to the deal.  Some analysts, in fact, have suggested that the deal may actually make military action against Iran in the event of a violation easier because it would provide a legal basis for reimposing sanctions and, if necessary, military action. Before this deal, neither the United States nor any other nation would have had a legitimate basis under international law for attacking Iran over its nuclear program, and its probable that such an attack would not have had the support of America’s European allies. With the deal in the place, the dynamics of the international community could change significantly if it can be proven that Iran did in fact violate the agreement.

Before we get to that point, though, it’s at least worth letting the process play out to see how Iranian behavior changes going forward. This is one of the reasons why the responses of several of the Republican candidates on this issue at Wednesday’s debate were so concerning. Candidates like Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, and several others, said that they would tear up the deal on their first day in office, which is obviously little more than grandstanding and pandering to the GOP base. Despite that, a response like that reveals much about the judgment of the candidate involved to the point where I think it’s fair to say that any candidate who would take that position quite simply should not be taken seriously. The nuclear deal with Iran is not perfect, but then diplomatic agreements are seldom are, but it is better than a status quo that was allowing to Iran to continue its nuclear research without any international supervision and it’s better than the vision of perpetual conflict that the deal’s opponents, who failed to present any viable alternative, were offering.

FILED UNDER: Congress, National Security, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed for too young in July 2021.

Comments

  1. al-Ameda says:

    Four Democrats, Senators Ben Cardin, Joe Manchin, Robert Menendez and Charles Schumer, voted with the Republicans to advance the disapproval resolution all three times.

    These were freebie “No” votes for those guys, they knew that the numbers would give them cover while Senate Democrats gave the Administration what it needed.

    Two presidential hopefuls, Senators Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, missed the vote after a debate in California last night in which Republicans bashed the Iran deal. Two others, Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham, voted with every other Senate Republican to advance the resolution.

    As expected the Republican Party gave a Soviet-style 100% “Yes” vote.

  2. Pete S says:

    In a way the louder opponents like Trump and Graham are going to wind up providing a lot of cover for Iran. Most objective observers know they have been shamelessly lying about the contents of the agreement. When they now start claims that Iran is not in compliance most of us will assume they are still lying and dismiss what they are saying even if they are right.

  3. Ron Beasley says:

    For the Republicans the only foreign policy solution is war. The Military Industrial Complex doesn’t make any money on diplomacy. This is the best agreement we could get and rejecting it would have isolated us from a real allies – and no, Israel is not an ally but a demanding client state and the same applies to Saudi Arabia.Eff them both. The holocaust was 70 years ago and Israel is doing their own holocaust in the the West Bank and Gaza and Saudi Arabia the same in Yemen.

  4. grumpy realist says:

    As said, I fail to understand how those who want us to chuck this out the window expect that we would get anything better. Russia and China are already tugging at the leash. If we tear this thing up, you will see an immediate stampede by European and Chinese companies to sign contracts with Iran.

    And the U.S. tries to impose a unilateral blockade in a multi-lateral world? Good luck with that. You know what the rest of the world would say if we tried that? “Bye, nice knowing you. Hello, China!”

    Honestly, the US is acting like a syphilic, aging drag queen thinking she can still pull off pretending she’s Sweet Sixteen.

  5. gVOR08 says:

    @grumpy realist:

    And the U.S. tries to impose a unilateral blockade in a multi-lateral world?

    ‘Cause that was so effective at driving Castro out of power.

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Some analysts, in fact, have suggested that the deal may actually make military action against Iran in the event of a violation easier because it would provide a legal basis for reimposing sanctions and, if necessary, military action. Before this deal, neither the United States nor any other nation would have had a legitimate basis under international law for attacking Iran over its nuclear program, and its probable that such an attack would not have had the support of America’s European allies. With the deal in the place, the dynamics of the international community could change significantly if it can be proven that Iran did in fact violate the agreement.

    This can not be repeated often enough. Iran was doing nothing that was not allowed under the terms of the NPT. And this too:

    The nuclear deal with Iran is not perfect, but then diplomatic agreements are seldom are, but it is better than a status quo that was allowing to Iran to continue its nuclear research without any international supervision and it’s better than the vision of perpetual conflict that the deal’s opponents, who failed to present any viable alternative, were offering.

    To this observer, the whole Iran foofaraw was little more than simple demagoguery of those scary Muslim people.

  7. DrDaveT says:

    […] securing perhaps the greatest foreign policy win of President Barack Obama’s six years in office and clearing the way to implement the accord.

    64-point type: “Political victory for the ___ party!

    8-point type: “Agreement takes effect.”

    I am sick unto death of reporting that is 98% about which faction gains or loses momentum/influence/popularity this week, 2% about what the actual legislation or treaty or decision or executive order says, and 0% about whether it will be good for the country or not.

    When did any consideration of the actual effect on people’s lives get relegated to the Op-Ed page (or nowhere)? I missed that transformation in ‘journalism’.

  8. C. Clavin says:

    @DrDaveT:
    We no longer have journalism…that was so last century.
    We have stenographers.

  9. michael reynolds says:

    @DrDaveT:

    Reporters became transcribers. Newspaper gave way to cable “news.” Informing the public was discarded in favor of winning ratings. Parties became teams. Politicians gave control of their personae to publicists.

    And idiot voters soaked it all up.

    I would add one thing in particular that changed, and that’s class consciousness among journalists. Reporters used to see themselves as working class. Then came ‘J’ school and reporters became ‘professionals.’ Now they think they’re in the same class as doctors, lawyers, or even on the edges of celebrity. They no longer bother worrying about the little people, they are all about access to the great and powerful.

  10. DrDaveT says:

    @C. Clavin: @michael reynolds:

    We have stenographers.
    Reporters became transcribers.

    No, that wouldn’t explain the fact that reporters of all ilks are perfectly willing to ‘analyze’ and opine on the political implications of current events. If they were mere scriveners, they would simply report the events without any analysis or opinion. Instead, they will talk for hours about how the latest IPCC report will affect the balance of power in the Senate, or the relationship between the current administration and the government of India — but never a word about what it means for real people, or even how to interpret the findings in it.

    Douglas Adams saw it coming…

    FORD:
    Oh Mighty Zarquon! Has no-one done anything?

    MARKETING GIRL:
    Finlon the producer has rescued a camera from the wreckage of the ship and is making a fascinating documentary on the indigenous cavemen of the area.

    FORD:
    Oh yes, and they’re dying out, have you noticed that?

    MANAGEMENT CONSULTANT:
    Yes we must make a note sir to stop selling them life insurance.

    FORD:
    But don’t you understand? Just since we’ve arrived they’ve started dying out.

    MARKETING GIRL:
    Yes! Yes! And this comes over terribly well in the film that he’s making.

  11. grumpy realist says:

    @DrDaveT: that’s because most of the real reporters saw the handwriting on the wall and fled the profession. It’s not news anymore, it’s high school stenographers, hoping to become faces on TV,

  12. Tillman says:

    @DrDaveT: Eh. I think people just got older, and more sources of news were established. The foundation on which the heyday of journalism was built wasn’t very robust to begin with. It’s always needed advertising to stay afloat, so it was inherently weak to financial pressure from competition. It’s always needed access, so it was inclined against questioning power too thoroughly. I mean, the scoop that broke COINTELPRO in ’71 was the Snowden affair of its day, and like recent history most news agencies initially refused to publish it.

    It’s not a very satisfying answer. Though really this seems confined to television news, and as we got more channels the foundation was bound to crumble.

  13. Barry says:

    @grumpy realist: “Honestly, the US is acting like a syphilic, aging drag queen thinking she can still pull off pretending she’s Sweet Sixteen.”

    You’re cruel 🙂

  14. Barry says:

    @DrDaveT: “No, that wouldn’t explain the fact that reporters of all ilks are perfectly willing to ‘analyze’ and opine on the political implications of current events.”

    Because that looks like news, and is hard to refute. Unless you’re an Evul Numbers guy who looks at predictions and outcomes afterwards, and they have no clout.

    It’s like some essay where the student spends a page or two giving useless definitions and BS to pad the paper.

  15. michael reynolds says:

    @Tillman:

    I don’t see it as a question of what they will or won’t publish – they published Snowden and they published the Pentagon Papers. I think they’ve become comfortable as tools of the rich and famous. Sure, to some extent they’ve always been that, but I used to feel there was a core of integrity there, maybe compromised a bit but not entirely abandoned.

    They feed on different meat now. They used to want controversy and the big exclusive, but they also still wanted truth and justice. They abandoned the truth and justice part. They no longer care whether a thing is true, only that it has been said and accurately transcribed. And they are indifferent to anything that is not part of their career advancement.

    And that’s just the shrinking media segment that isn’t openly lying to people for fun and profit.

  16. anjin-san says:

    I fully expected to wake up this morning surrounded by the radioactive wasteland that was once America. Is it possible that conservatives were wrong?

  17. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Doug, I’m disappointed. This is all bullshit Kabuki theater. It was obvious once Corker passed that the fix was in, and it was a done deal. After that, everything became moot.

    Obama isn’t actually complying with the Corker bill? it doesn’t matter.

    The agreement violates the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which cannot legally be modified by anything less than another treaty? it doesn’t matter.

    The agreement violates the Iran sanctions act, which says that Iran must commit to and make steps to stop supporting terrorism before its funds can be unfrozen? it doesn’t matter.

    When Corker inverted the rule governing the approval of treaties, Congress showed that it intended to let Obama get his deal passed no matter what it actually said — because the deal was still being worked out at that time. Every single member of Congress who voted for Corker said that they were fine with whatever deal Obama brought to them, sight unseen. Anything they say or do since then is bullshit to obscure that they’ve already signed off on the deal and gave Obama a blank check.

    This has all been blindingly obvious since Corker passed. Why has that escaped the notice of so may?

    The only relevant thing said about this whole sad mess was when Ben Carson noted that the deal is a simple executive agreement — which can be overturned by a future president at the stroke of a pen. Nothing else said or done has meant a damned thing.

  18. Ben Wolf says:

    The agreement violates the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which cannot legally be modified by anything less than another treaty?

    The only way this can be argued is to give the NPT such a broad mandate as to render it meaningless. Even giving an Iranian a chocolate bar is a violation of the treaty by your reading. I find it strange the instance in which a country has blatantly violated the NPT (U.S. arming of Israel with thermonuclear weapons) isn’t condemed by you. It’s as though you don’t don’t really care about the treaty but are using it as a convenient club against the President.

    The agreement violates the Iran sanctions act, which says that Iran must commit to and make steps to stop supporting terrorism before its funds can be unfrozen?

    Sanctions related to terrorism are not being ended.

    The only relevant thing said about this whole sad mess was when Ben Carson noted that the deal is a simple executive agreement — which can be overturned by a future president at the stroke of a pen. Nothing else said or done has meant a damned thing.

    Maybe it should be relevant the U.S. helped Iran start its nuclear weapons program. Maybe it should be relevant the U.S. helped Saddam Hussein start his nuclear program. Maybe it should be relevant Ronald Reagan explicitly lied by blaming Iran for Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons against the Shi’a. Maybe anything prior to the last five minutes of propaganda ought to be relevant.

  19. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Ben Wolf: I wasn’t making arguments, I was citing them — in the process of talking about how they’re all irrelevant. The fix is in. Why the hell are you trying to get into the minutiae of the arguments? Are you somehow invested in keeping the charade going or something?

    And I find it amazing how the only nation in the world that has any agency is the US. Everything that goes bad is somehow the US’ fault. It’s like we cast some kind of magic spell and made all these countries desperately want WMDs, and they were powerless to resist and say no.

  20. anjin-san says:

    It’s like we cast some kind of magic spell and made all these countries desperately want WMDs

    After we gave Iraq WMDs & helped them use them against Iran in a war of aggression, I just can’t imaging why Iran could possibly think maybe they need nukes.

  21. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @anjin-san: @anjin-san: After we gave Iraq WMDs & helped them use them against Iran in a war of aggression

    Hey, everyone, want to watch me make annie run away and hide? Or, at least, totally wuss out of the discussion?

    Annie, just what WMDs did we supply Iraq with, and when?

    Now, you said “gave Iraq WMDs.” That means actual, ready-to-use weapons. Not “some stuff that, with a lot of work, could help them make WMDs.” And by the standard established by the “Bush LIED!!!!!eleventy!!!” rule, that means nukes, not chemical or biological weapons.

    So, annie, if you had the slightest bit of self-awareness, you’d run away and hide. If you had any integrity, you’d own up to your fraud.

    But I’m betting on you simply blustering and refusing to back up your allegations and instead going for lame insults. Because that’s how you roll, right?

  22. An Interested Party says:

    Annie, just what WMDs did we supply Iraq with, and when?

    Hmm…

    You really do make it so easy sometimes, your pathetic parsing about “actual ready-to-use weapons” and “‘BUSH LIED…'” notwithstanding…

  23. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @An Interested Party: How nice of you to do annie’s homework for him. It’s like you knew as well as I did that he wouldn’t do it himself.

    But he said WMDs, not “things that we supplied to a lot of people that, with a lot of work, could be weaponized.” You’re saying that if Bill Ayers owns an alarm clock, then he is well on his way to resuming his career as a bomber. Or if some farmer goes out with his diesel truck, fuels it up, then buys a load of fertilizer, then he’s got a bomb.

    Good answer, but it doesn’t meet the standard annie set up. Which you knew, I’m sure, just like you knew that he couldn’t be bothered to answer himself.

  24. Matt says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: You analogy isn’t even remotely in the same universe as what the US government did. Saddam wasn’t given components he was straight up given examples ready to go. That would be like your mythical farmer getting self replicating C4 and missile delivery technology along with the diesel and fertilizer he bought..