Does bill forcing Congressional review on Iranian nuclear deal help more than it hurts?
There have been a number of reactions to the Corker-Menendez bill, which provides for Congressional oversight of whatever nuclear deal the administration makes with Iran. It passed out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday with a 19-0 vote.
J. E. Dyer at Liberty Unyielding looks at the numbers and sees the bill as a loss.
If Congress rejects the Iran deal, and the president vetoes its legislation, Congress will have the balance of a 52-day period to override the veto. If the Senate finds itself unable to act, at some point in this process, Obama’s deal can be implemented without assent from the Senate.
To override a veto, of course, opponents will need 67 votes. To uphold a veto, Obama just has to make sure there are 34 votes for his deal. He doesn’t have to have even 51 votes to implement it. With 34, he’s got a major win.
The beauty of this for Obama is that he still gets a win if the Senate at any point can’t bring a floor vote. His deal just gets implemented because the Senate failed to act. So it won’t matter if the president has 34 votes for the Iran deal, but not enough to bring the deal to a vote. The win for Obama is merely less photogenic in that case. The effect is the same.
More than that, Dyer writes, given that it’s way too easy for President Obama to win in Congress, the bill could enshrine a deal with Iran as law with no vote and leave Congress with no further recourse but to accept a really bad deal.
An editorial in The Wall Street Journal acknowledges the flaws in the bill but sees the bill as the best or only option of at least putting up a speed bump to slow down an administration hellbent on making any deal it can with Iran.
Committing the U.S. to a deal of this magnitude—concerning proliferation of the world’s most destructive weapons—should require treaty ratification. Previous Presidents from JFK to Nixon to Reagan and George H.W. Bush submitted nuclear pacts as treaties. Even Mr. Obama submitted the U.S.-Russian New Start accord as a treaty. …
But instead he is giving more authority over American commitments to the United Nations than to the U.S. Congress. By making the accord an executive agreement as opposed to a treaty, and perhaps relying on a filibuster or veto to overcome Congressional opposition, he’s turning the deal into a one-man presidential compact with Iran. This will make it vulnerable to being rejected by the next President, as some of the GOP candidates are already promising.
The case for the Corker bill is that it at least guarantees some debate and a vote in Congress on an Iran deal. Mr. Obama can probably do what he wants anyway, but the Iranians are on notice that the United States isn’t run by a single Supreme Leader.
However, The Times of Israel reports that a number of groups – both supporting and opposing the bill – saw the announcement that the president would support the bill as a retreat.
“Over the course of the morning someone in the White House counted to 67, and then they counted to 290, and then they decided they were better off trying to spin a reversal now than a veto override later,” quipped Omri Ceren, press director at The Israel Project, referring to the number of votes needed for a super majority in the Senate and House, which would override a veto.
For weeks, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry had campaigned vociferously against the bill, drafted by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ).
They argued that the bill would set back nuclear talks with Iran and also violate the constitutional authority of the executive branch to determine American foreign policy. As late as Tuesday morning, Kerry was on Capitol Hill briefing senators on talks with Iran.
NIAC, the pro-Iran organization, still saw the compromise bill as problematic.
“NIAC has consistently opposed S.615 because of our concern that it threatened to undermine negotiations and derail a deal. The compromise amendment that was struck by Senators Corker and Cardin does not change the fundamental problems with this bill. It still threatens to derail the talks and kill a deal, and we remain opposed to it,” complained the organization’s policy director, Jamal Abdi.
A hysterical editorial in The New York Times also condemned the deal as “reckless.”
Mr. Obama’s acquiescence might be a tactical move. He could veto the congressional vote on the final agreement, which is supposed to be concluded by the June 30 deadline, rather than expending political capital in vetoing this measure if it were to pass both chambers of Congress. But the Senate committee’s action puts him in an weakened position as the only leader involved in the negotiations who may not be permitted to fully honor commitments that were made.
The nuclear deal is the product a multinational negotiation with Iran conducted by the United States, France, Britain, China, Germany and Russia. In no other country has the legislative body demanded the right to block the agreement. Even if Congress barred Mr. Obama from waiving American sanctions, the European Union and the United Nations Security Council could lift the sanctions they imposed, thus undercutting the American decision.
Even the editorial, though, portrayed the president’s support as a retreat, writing, “Mr. Obama initially threatened to veto the legislation, but he backed off rather than face a bipartisan override of his veto.”
To Max Boot, the small achievement of Corker, even at a potentially high cost, was worth it.
Yet today Corker managed to convince every member of the Foreign Relations Committee to endorse a bill that would give Congress the right to approve any lifting of sanctions as a result of the nuclear deal. So thoroughly did he manage to win over Democrats that Obama, facing a veto-proof majority, had no choice but to concede that he would sign the legislation. How did Corker do it? It’s hard to know exactly from the outside but it sounds as if, in negotiating with committee Democrats, he made some cosmetic changes, such as shortening the congressional review period from 60 to 30 days and not requiring Obama to certify that Iran has gotten out of the business of supporting anti-American terrorism. Such changes will spark criticism from some on the right, but the essential point appears intact—namely, that Obama will have to allow Congress to weigh in, something that he has so far adamantly resisted doing.
Of course as good or as bad as the bill is, there still may never be a deal to evaluate. Today Hassan Rouhani doubled down on his insistence that the sanctions relief come immediately. According to Iran’s official IRNA news agency Rouhani told a crowd, “End of nuclear negotiations and signing of a final deal should be simultaneous with lifting of economic sanctions and all should know that the Iranian people are determined to continue their path and attain victory.” This is at odds with the American position, which calls for the lifting of sanctions only after Iran complies with its obligations.
This raises another question: who is blocking a nuclear deal with Iran? Corker-Menendez or Iran?
UPDATE (by WAJ): Mark Levin makes a constitutional point that the Senate has given up its power to approve treaties:
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