John Boehner Admits That Congress Lacks The Votes To Stop A Nuclear Deal With Iran

Congress can't really do anything to stop a nuclear deal with Iran, and John Boehner knows it.


Speaker of the House John Boehner has reportedly told a group of Jewish Republicans that the GOP does not have the votes to stop any deal that the President may reach regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons program:

The top ranking Republican in Congress privately acknowledged this weekend that his party doesn’t have enough votes to overcome a veto of any resolution disapproving the nuclear-weapons deal President Barack Obama hopes to reach with Iran.

Speaking at an off-the-record event Saturday at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s meeting in Las Vegas, House Speaker John Boehner told the audience that he didn’t expect that more than two-thirds of Congress would vote to overturn a veto from Obama if Congress voted against a nuclear deal, according to four people who were inside the room for the private talk.

The resolution of disapproval is provided for in legislation before the Senate this week, known as the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. The deadline for reaching a final nuclear accord between Iran, the U.S. and five other world powers is June 30.

Proponents of the legislation, such as Republican co-author Senator Bob Corker, say the bill gives Congress a chance to review an Iran agreement and could stop Obama from lifting sanctions during the review process. Critics, however, want to strengthen the bill’s mechanisms and lower the threshold necessary for Congress to disapprove the deal. Their hope is to be able to ultimately stop Obama from at least lifting those sanctions created by Congress, as opposed to the ones created through executive order or the United Nations Security Council. Boehner’s comments this weekend confirm their suspicions that Corker’s bill is too weak to stop Obama from implementing a bad Iran deal.

Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, confirmed that the speaker said he did not expect Congress to have the votes to overturn a veto of a resolution to disapprove the Iran deal. “Obviously, it takes only a fraction of the House and Senate Democrats to sustain a veto,” Steel told me. “But it is impossible to say whether they will or not until we know what the final ‘deal’ looks like.”

One Republican elected official who attended the Republican Jewish Coalition’s weekend event told me many attendees were disappointed in Boehner’s prediction. “It seems like Congress can’t do anything to stop Obama’s Iran deal,” the official said. Others who went to the Boehner event expressed a similar concern to me as well.

This isn’t entirely surprising, of course, while there is apparently strong support for the Corker Menendez Bill that is being debated in the Senate this week, it has been apparent from the beginning that Democrats in the House and Senate would be reluctant to override a Presidential veto of any disapproval resolution that Congress may pass in the wake of whatever deal may or may not be reached between now and the end of June. Such an override, of course, would require a 2/3 vote from each chamber, and that would require many Democrats to join in what is an essentially Republican effort. Getting members to vote against their own President in this manner is difficult to begin with, getting them to do it when it would essentially amount to a repudiation of a central element of their foreign policy would likely be next to impossible. That’s one of the  many reasons that the Administration ended up agreeing to the Corker bill to begin with, of course, because it was apparent even from a distance that it was a fairly good deal for the Administration overall and certainly better than creating a long, drawn out showdown with Congress over the Iran issue.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that Congress will not have a lot to say about any deal that is reached in Switzerland, of course. Regardless of the final outcome of the vote, it’s likely that the matter will be the subject of hearings before the relevant committees in both the House and the Senate and that Republicans on Capitol Hill will be quite active in condemning the deal (because, let’s be honest, they’re going to be against the deal no matter what’s in it). Additionally, the Republican candidates for President will be all over the issue given the way the issues of Iran and Israel play among Republican base voters. Most importantly, though, Congress will continue to have a role due to the fact that it will be impossible to repeal many of the sanctions that have been imposed against Iran over the years without Congressional approval. Under the current political climate, it seems rather unlikely that this will happen without evidence of some substantial compliance on the part of the Islamic Republic, and even then it is likely to be difficult. Until then, the best that the President will be able to do is order the gradual lifting of the sanctions that he has control over through his executive authority.

The important take away here, though, is the fact that, in the end, Congress will most likely not be able to do anything to stop a nuclear deal with Iran. There will be, as I said, hearings, and politicians and pundits will pontificate. The media will speculate endlessly about whether President Obama is headed for an embarrassing defeat in Congress on a signature foreign policy initiative. In the end, though, what Boehner is admitting here is that it will all be theater, because we already know the outcome.

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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 far too young in July 2021.


  1. C. Clavin says:

    Oh my…Republicans don’t have the votes for a proxy war on behalf of Israel? What a shame.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    What’s the problem? Has vice lord Sheldon Adelson run out of ready cash? Are there no more Congressfolk for sale?