Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Iran Nuclear Agreement Clears Biggest Legislative Hurdle, but More Remain

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Iran Nuclear Agreement Clears Biggest Legislative Hurdle, but More Remain

Article excerpt

The nuclear agreement with Iran was signed by all parties on July 14 and, in accordance with the "Nuclear Agreement Review Act," S. 615, passed in May and previously described in this column, agreement documents were delivered to Congress on July 19, beginning the 60-day congressional review period. Under S. 615, Congress could pass either a resolution of disapproval, which would effectively kill the agreement, or a resolution of approval, in which case sanctions relief under the agreement could go forward. If neither resolution were passed, sanctions relief under the agreement could also go ahead.

Many congressional actions on the agreement took the form of measures regarding the agreement's "Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action" (JCPA), which set forth the timeline of events to implement the agreement. The only serious effort to scuttle the agreement came in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) took up a measure previously passed by the House, H.J.Res. 61, and amended it by replacing its text with a resolution of disapproval. That effort failed on Sept. 10, when a cloture motion to end debate, requiring 60 yes votes, failed by a vote of 58 to 42. McConnell tried again with a very slightly modified amendment on Sept. 17, the last day of the congressional review period. Its cloture motion also failed by 56 to 42.

All Republican senators voted to approve the resolution of disapproval. All but four Democrats opposed the resolution. Those four were Sens. Ben Cardin (MD), Joe Manchin (WV), Bob Menendez (NJ) and Chuck Schumer (NY).

The House proceedings were a circus. Since it was obvious that no resolution of disapproval would pass the Senate, retiring House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) resorted to bringing up three measures designed to let Republicans grandstand and appease their Likudnik donors and supporters. No actual resolution of disapproval was voted on. The first measure was the non-binding H.Res. 411, introduced Sept. 9 by Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) and Lee Zeldin (R-NY), which claims that President Barack Obama has not complied with the Nuclear Agreement Review Act because he did not deliver all agreement documents. This claims that the agreements between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are part of the agreement, which they are not. The House passed the measure Sept. 10 on a party line vote of 245 to 186.

Opponents do not seem prepared to admit defeat.

Boehner then let opponents of the agreement explicitly show their disapproval. On Sept. 11 he brought up H.R. 3461, which he had introduced two days earlier. It would approve the JCPA. It failed by a vote of 162 (all Democrats) to 269. The third measure taken up by the House was H.R. 3460, introduced Sept. 9 by Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL), which would suspend the president's authority to waive Iran sanctions until Jan. 21, 2017 (the day after the next president is inaugurated). It was passed on a vote of 247 to 186.

Another measure designed to scuttle the agreement and passed by the House was H.R. 3457, introduced by Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA) on Sept. 9. It would prohibit waiving Iran sanctions until Iran has paid judgments brought against it. The House passed it on Oct. 1 by a vote of 251 to 173. An identical bill, S. 2086, was introduced in the Senate on Sept. 28 by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA). It has five co-sponsors, including Toomey.

As with the earlier Affordable Care Act, opponents do not seem prepared to admit defeat. Efforts to scuttle the agreement or hamper its implementation take different forms. The first to be taken up in the Senate may be the previously described S. 1682, introduced in June by leading Iran hawks Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Menendez "to extend the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 and to require the Secretary of the Treasury to report on the use by Iran of funds made available through sanctions relief." The bill would extend the 1996 act through Dec. 31, 2026. While Kirk and Menendez argue that the bill is necessary to be able to "snap back" sanctions if Iran violates the terms of an agreement, that is not true, because the 1996 act doesn't expire until the end of 2016. …

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