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The Good, Bad and Ugly of Senate Iran Nuke Compromise

The Good, Bad and Ugly of Senate Iran Nuke Compromise

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:

[Photo: Roll Call / YouTube ]


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This is Iran we’re talking about. Terror state, active engagement in fighting against US interests right now. On going threat to American interests world wide. Count on them making Obama look supine over the next few months. Congress showed yesterday that attaining 67 votes to turn down the existing deal is likely should Obama keep acquiescing to Iranian demands. Now Obama will have to produce a better deal or the Senate will vote it down.

That is the message I take from yesterday. Basically a no-confidence vote against the existing Obama-Kerry deal, whatever it happens to be. Don’t forget, this bill also stipulates all the text, public and secret be made available to Congress. Obama as I see it is hemmed in tight which he wasn’t before the Senate acted.

    ConradCA in reply to richardb. | April 16, 2015 at 3:48 am

    This is a terrible bill. The Senate already has the power to decide that this agreement is a treaty and therefor subject to their ratification. They could hold a vote to ratify the treaty and 2/3s of the Senate must vote in favor for it to pass. I expect they would reject this treaty which would make it null and void. All Tyrant Obama the Liar would be able to do is cry and throw a temper tantrum.

    This bill requires 2/3 of the house and 2/3 of the Senate vote to reject ending our sanctions. Much harder to kill the treaty then ratification.

    Harry Reid was right. The Republicans are stupid losers.

    RickCaird in reply to DINORightMarie. | April 15, 2015 at 4:09 pm

    I posted this on Levin’s site:

    I disagree with Levin on this one. Since the Senate has not actually ratified any Iran agreement as a treaty, then the agreement only exists as long as the President, whoever that is, agrees. Any President can decide not to honor such an executive agreement.

    Now, what this bill does is force Obama to submit the agreement to the Senate. Without this bill, Obama could put any agreement in his pocket and say he will honor it without the Senate seeing it.

    Estragon in reply to DINORightMarie. | April 15, 2015 at 11:24 pm

    He’s just not correct. The Senate only gets to ratify treaties that are submitted to it by the President. Obama isn’t going to submit anything and never intended to. It seems likely he won’t even have any signed document at all.

    And it is very true that 90% of our international agreements in the last 30 years have been executive agreements not ratified as treaties, and also that Obama has signed fewer of them than any President since Reagan.

    – –

    Those are the facts. Was Levin complaining about Bush’s agreements? Clinton’s? Ever mention them in terms of avoiding ratification even one time? But suddenly this is a Constitutional crisis?

    Levin is very selectively indignant, befitting a two-faced blowhard like him.

Levin stated that the Senate’s constitutional power of consent doesn’t depend upon what the president calls his treaties or his submission of treaties for ratification.

The Senate could just declare that this “agreement” is a treaty and subject to their ratification. Then when and if Obama signs this “agreement” they should hold hearings and vote on ratification. All without any action of the president.

All Tyrant Obama the Liar would be able to do when the Senate rejects his “agreement” is to have a good cry and throw a temper tantrum.

Since the Constitution overrides any law passed by Congress and signed by the President I have to believe that unless ratified this “agreement” will have no standing. Couldn’t someone, a Senator or other party with standing, say a company whose competitor got a contract to do business with Iran, bring a suit to prevent implementation?

It seems to me that this law would just be the equivalent of Congress saying “We chose not to act now.”

By White House design there is not now or will there ever be a written treaty with Iran. There will be no opportunity for the Senate to ratify or reject Obama’s foreign policy toward Iran. Obama’s already gutted the Senate’s function of “advise and consent”, at least for the duration of his Presidency. He doesn’t want their advice and considers their consent unnecessary. He continues to dare the other co-equal branches of government to stop his power grabs and so far Obama is winning the war in rather grand style. He ignores Congress completely and lies to the judiciary with impunity; all without significant consequences.

Suggestions that the Senate do nothing because Obama might win another PR battle are just beyond silly. They need to continue advising and seek an opportunity to consent if for no other reason than the belief that the next occupant of the White House will be less dictatorial and a return to our traditional system of government is still possible.

Obama gets away with his power grabs because too many of our elected representatives in both parties find our constitutional system of government too difficult to administer. Some disagree, but their numbers are far fewer than those who would be content to simply relegate Congress to figurehead positions and pass a crown back and forth between parties every few years.

We’ve never seen anything quite like the Obamites and nothing short of impeachment proceedings is going to slow them down. And we all know that’s never going to happen. Too many in DC want to wear that crown.

As Levin said, the Constitution arranged things in such a way that no one man can commit the entire country to momentous things like wars or treaties. At least officially. And that hasn’t changed.

However, there’s little to prevent the President from behaving as if the country is committed to a treaty, even if no such treaty exists.

For example: Consider that even though the Senate never ratified the Kyoto Protocol, a President can stage a pretty good simulation via Executive Orders to his underlings; by directing the Department of the Interior to deny leases for oil exploration, by directing the EPA to enact bureaucratic regulations to strangle useful things like electric power generation, etc. He doesn’t need Congressional approval for such actions.

In the current crisis, Obama apparently wants to relax the things which have been inhibiting Persia’s ability to buy technology from American firms which will aid its nuclear program. And he doesn’t seem to need an actual treaty to do that. Congress wants to block these attempts, and should be able to do so with specific legislation.

In other words, the whole “treaty” issue is a red herring. Iran doesn’t need a treaty with the US to get what it wants, and Congress doesn’t need a treaty to stop it.

Of course, how Congress will enforce any laws is a problem, as enforcement is basically the job of the Executive, and, as we know, Obama & Holder simply won’t enforce any laws they don’t like.

Republicans: Form circular firing squad!

I would have never thought that a Republican US Senator would propose a bill that gives a President, let alone Obama, the power to enter into an international agreement, essentially and practically, by decree.

Only monarchs and dictators have that kind of power.

Corker-Menendez subverts our Constitution by turning the treaty ratification clause on its head. Instead of requiring a two-thirds majority to ratify a treaty, the bill mandates a two-thirds majority to veto an “agreement” otherwise it automatically becomes law. WTF?

Now, all Obama now needs to win is the votes from one-third of Congress, the hard-core left wing of his party, on his side. Before this folly, Obama would have needed at least a majority of both houses,or two-thirds of the Senate. The deal also manages to give Democrats political cover from going it alone like they did with Obamacare. Another advantage needlessly squandered.

Understanding the new legislative math, Iranians will likely negotiate harder, after all, John Kerry.

The sycophant MSM will frame Senate hearings, and the almost certain failure of Republicans to muster a two-thirds super-majority to “veto” the agreement, as a monumental victory for Obama and the Democrats. Republicans will be portrayed as the losers, consequences to follow in 2016.

Republicans have squandered away political advantage and a principled position in return for almost certain defeat. Worst of all, they will have emboldened Iran and our enemies.