White House And Congress Reach Compromise On Review Of Iran Nuclear Deal

After months of resistance, the White House will allow Congressional review of any deal with Iran, but it may not hamper negotiations much in the end.

United States Capitol Building, Washington, D.C. Aerial

Thanks to a last minute compromise, Congress will have a role in voting on whatever deal is eventually reached regarding Iran’s nuclear program, but the way the bill is structured makes it unlikely that Congressional Republicans will actually be able to wreck a final deal:

WASHINGTON — The White House relented on Tuesday and said President Obama would sign a compromise bill giving Congress a voice on the proposed nuclear accord with Iran as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in rare unanimous agreement, moved the legislation to the full Senate for a vote.

An unusual alliance of Republican opponents of the nuclear deal and some of Mr. Obama’s strongest Democratic supporters demanded a congressional role as international negotiators work to turn this month’s nuclear framework into a final deal by June 30. White House officials insisted they extracted crucial last-minute concessions. Republicans — and many Democrats — said the president simply got overrun.

“We’re involved here. We have to be involved here,” said Senator Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, the committee’s ranking Democrat, who served as a bridge between the White House and Republicans as they negotiated changes in the days before the committee’s vote on Tuesday. “Only Congress can change or permanently modify the sanctions regime.”

The essence of the legislation is that Congress will have a chance to vote on whatever deal emerges with Iran — if one is reached by June 30 — but in a way that would be extremely difficult for Mr. Obama to lose, allowing Secretary of State John Kerry to tell his Iranian counterpart that the risk that an agreement would be upended on Capitol Hill is limited.

As Congress considers any accord on a very short timetable, it would essentially be able to vote on an eventual end to sanctions, and then later take up the issue depending on whether Iran has met its own obligations. But if it rejected the agreement, Mr. Obama could veto that legislation — and it would take only 34 senators to sustain the veto, meaning that Mr. Obama could lose upward of a dozen Democratic senators and still prevail.

The bill would require that the administration send the text of a final accord, along with classified material, to Congress as soon as it is completed. It also halts any lifting of sanctions pending a 30-day congressional review, and culminates in a possible vote to allow or forbid the lifting of congressionally imposed sanctions in exchange for the dismantling of much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. It passed 19 to 0.

(…)

Under the compromise legislation, a 60-day review period of a final nuclear agreement in the original bill was in effect cut in half, to 30 days, starting with its submission to Congress. But tacked on to that review period potentially would be the maximum 12 days the president would have to decide whether to accept or veto a resolution of disapproval, should Congress take that vote.

The formal review period would also include a maximum of 10 days Congress would have to override the veto. For Republicans, that would mean the president could not lift sanctions for a maximum of 52 days after submitting a final accord to Congress, along with all classified material.

And if a final accord is not submitted to Congress by July 9, the review period will snap back to 60 days. That would prevent the administration from intentionally delaying the submission of the accord to the Capitol. Congress could not reopen the mechanics of a deal, and taking no action would be the equivalent of allowing it to move forward.

Mr. Corker also agreed to a significant change on the terrorism language.

Initially, the bill said the president had to certify every 90 days that Iran no longer was supporting terrorism against Americans. If he could not, economic sanctions would be reimposed.

Under the agreement, the president would still have to send periodic reports to Congress on Iran’s activities regarding ballistic missiles and terrorism, but those reports could not trigger another round of sanctions.

Given the fact that the White House has spent the last several months at least pushing back on the idea of what amounted in some of its more stringent versions to a Congressional veto, it’s not surprising to see the media largely spinning this as something of a set back for the Administration. In fact, the White House was continuing to lobby Democratic members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to vote against Corker’s bill up until mere hours before the vote took place yesterday. At the same time, though, they were clearly negotiating behind the scenes to try to come up with a compromise like this because it was clear that something was going to pass the Senate and House, and that it was going to pass with at least some level of bipartisan support regardless of how much the White House lobbied against it.

Given that, what passed out of committee isn’t necessarily that bad from the White House’s point of view and may not do very much to hinder a final deal, assuming that one is reached by the end of June. As noted, even if both Houses of Congress pass a resolution disapproving of the deal, President Obama will still be able to issue a veto and, unless supporters can come up with a 2/3 majority in both the House and the Senate, the deal will have essentially be approved. On some level, it’s a smart strategy for the White House than submitting the deal as a formal treaty since, in that case, they’d have to figure out had to get 67 votes approving the agreement in a Senate that has 55 Republicans that are likely to vote no. Instead, all they really have to worry about in the worst case scenario is finding as few as ten Democrats unwilling to override the President’s veto. That certainly seems like an easier political maneuver to pull off in the end.

Even beyond the process outlined in this bill, Congress is still likely to have a significant say in future U.S. policy toward Iran, even if there is a final deal reached in Switzerland. Many of the sanctions that have been imposed on Iran are codified in the law, for example, and most of those can only be fully lifted with Congressional assent. The most that the President can do on his own is lift the sanctions imposed via executive order. Additionally, it’s largely a good thing that Congress is reasserting its authority when it comes to foreign policy. Regardless of whether or not you believe it’s a good idea to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran, and I generally believe that it is, it would have been entirely improper for the White House to agree to something like this, and begin implementing it, without any Congressional oversight at all simply because, technically, the agreement isn’t considered a “treaty” under the Constitution. On that point alone, this compromise is a step forward regardless of what impact it has on the nuclear talks.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Congress, National Security, Politicians, 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. OzarkHillbilly says:

    it would have been entirely improper for the White House to agree to something like this, and begin implementing it, without any Congressional oversight at all simply because, technically, the agreement isn’t considered a “treaty” under the Constitution.

    Unlike all those other agreements instituted by past Presidents. I am also at a loss to find anything good in giving a Republican any say on any foreign policy issue in the Middle East. Or come to think of it anywhere else either, seeing as all their FP can be summed up as “Do what we say or we’ll bomb you.”

  2. Democrats in Congress have also been saying that Congress needs to have a say on the deal, and polling indicates the public agrees.

  3. C. Clavin says:

    The House…and the full compliment of Tea Baggers therein…has not spoken yet.
    Corker is a nut-job, but a reasonable nut-job, and the compromise is OK. We’ll see how this plays out when those unwilling to compromise their loyalty to Israel have spoken.

  4. PJ says:

    The deal was accepted so that Republicans in Congress can leak to Israel faster.

  5. Tony W says:

    Edit: The constitution already provides for congressional oversight of treaties. I’d prefer Congress simply comply with the law instead of crafting new legislation, but such is the state of affairs

  6. Tillman says:

    Regardless of whether or not you believe it’s a good idea to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran, and I generally believe that it is, it would have been entirely improper for the White House to agree to something like this, and begin implementing it, without any Congressional oversight at all simply because, technically, the agreement isn’t considered a “treaty” under the Constitution. On that point alone, this compromise is a step forward regardless of what impact it has on the nuclear talks.

    This is the part of the post that allows Doug to dismiss criticism by sticking to the just point (“fiat justitia ruat caelum“) that any institutional reassertion of traditional powers is a good thing. If you have any criticism which didn’t acknowledge this basic point and instead talked about it being an elegantly-crafted talking point for elected officials to conceal their baser, motivated politics, and you’re reading this, reconsider.

    I’d, of course, quibble over timing. Interfering in a delicate diplomatic situation normally outside Congress’s purview is not the best way to reassert one’s prerogatives after a lengthy abdication. And let’s not make the mistake of thinking it’s nothing less than interference. If we were in Bratislava negotiating local metal worker union bargaining rights, this wouldn’t be news to anyone. We are, instead, the hegemonic power of the world negotiating a nuclear deal in coordination with other great powers in “a complex geopolitical scenario” (Middle East in a nutshell) involving nuclear nonproliferation with a regional power we have bad blood with going back at least two generations. So anything our legislative branch does is automatically world news if it involves itself in such affairs, changing even if an iota our positions in negotiations.

    I’ll hammer on about Congressional abdication all day, but even I recognize there are limits to a good thing.

  7. Tillman says:

    @Tony W: Yeah, but much like the War Powers Act doesn’t work as a great stand-in for honest declarations of war, a whole lot of the business of international relations is in these “political agreements” that aren’t ratified treaties. They’re understandings between world leaders in democratic systems, not legal documents binding two democracies.

    An honest-to-God treaty concerning Iran’s nuclear program and our (and the other powers’) economic sanctions would be preferable to a political agreement. It’s just not going to happen given the ridiculous situation we’re in, and Congress is pushing for more responsibility at, well, not the worst time, but there were lots of better times. But pushing then (I’m thinking the U.S.’s ramped up “contingency operation” against ISIS) would have been politically frightening, what with an election coming up.

  8. ernieyeball says:

    OT Alert: From the BBC…

    Small aircraft lands on US Capitol lawn
    http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-32322775

  9. Pete S says:

    @Tillman: You are right, a treaty would be great but not with this Congress. In all honesty I think if President Obama negotiated a treaty where Iran agreed to decomission all centrifuges and use the building materials to construct ships which would bring free oil to the US in perpetuity, enough Republicans would vote against it to block implementation.

  10. stonetools says:

    Doug ( and a few Democrats) are trusting that the Republicans will do the right thing and put nation over party in the end and affirm a good deal . Based on the last seven years, I conclude this is wishful thinking. I think the Republicans will torpedo any deal, no matter how good it is. Obama must be denied a success at all costs.

    Bill Kristol on Twitter :

    Corker-Menendez vote today probably helpful. But need to remember: The task is to kill the deal, not merely to complicate its trajectory.

    Like it or not, Doug, this is the mission of your preferred party. And I think the Democrats who went along with the Republicans here are simply their useful idiots. Chuck Schumer has failed his first test of Senate leadership , which is never trust the bastards who are trying to stick it to your President. I’m now 100 per cent for Dick Durbin taking over as Democratic Senate caucus leader.

  11. gVOR08 says:

    it’s largely a good thing that Congress is reasserting its authority when it comes to foreign policy.

    In principle I agree. With this particular congress, no, not so much.

    But it sounds like Obama got pretty much what he needs and the GOPs got a fig leaf. In theory the GOPs could still kill the agreement, but they’d then have to accept responsibility for the consequences. The last thing congress, any congress, wants is to actually be held responsible for anything.

  12. steve says:

    I agree with this principle Doug. A lot of our problems come from the Congress deferring too much to the executive branch or SCOTUS, or doing nothing at all. Yes, it kind of sucks if you are a Dem for it to start happening only when your guy is in office, and I certainly understand any skepticism about this working the same way if a Republican was in the office. That said, I still think it is the right thing to do.

    Steve

  13. Tillman says:

    @Tillman: You know, from an apologetics standpoint, this isn’t that bad on a reread.