Iran Nuclear Deal Review Legislation Heads to President’s Desk After Easy House Passage

By Patrick Goodenough | May 14, 2015 | 8:13pm EDT
Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and E.U. foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini prepare to announce a framework nuclear agreement after talks in Lausanne, Switzerland on Thursday, April 2, 2015. (AP Photo/Keystone, Jean-Christophe Bott, File)

( – President Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran is set to come under congressional review – with the possibility of a vote against sanctions relief – after the U.S. House on Thursday voted 400-25 to pass legislation that now heads to the White House for signature.

Only 19 House Republicans and six Democrats voted against the measure, after the Senate passed it in a 98-1 vote last week.

Among the no voters was Republican Rep. Ted Poe of Texas, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittees on terrorism. Poe is a strong critic of Iran and of the pending nuclear agreement, which he said recently “puts Iran on the goal line with just inches to go before it scores a touchdown.”

Democrats voting no included liberal Reps. Keith Ellison (Minn.) – one of two Muslims in the House – James McDermott (Wash.) and John Conyers (Mich.). The three joined up in Aug. 2013 in a failed bid to block a vote on new sanctions against Iran, arguing that doing so before the inauguration of then President-elect Hasan Rouhani “would be counter-productive and irresponsible.”

The White House dropped an early threat to veto the Iran Nuclear Review Act after several of the more contentious measures – including terror-related provisions – were removed or revised by its chief sponsor, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), and ranking member Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.).

In the Senate, debate on Republican amendments designed to strengthen the bill was cut off after Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) tried to force a quick vote on two amendments – one requiring Iran to recognize Israel’s right to exist, and the other requiring Iran to give inspectors full access to suspicious sites before getting any sanctions relief. (Cotton cast the sole opposing vote when the Senate passed the legislation last week.)

In the House, GOP leaders barred amendments for fear they could have upset the carefully-crafted bipartisan bill. Instead, a separate measure to tighten sanctions against Iran’s Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, was brought to a vote, and passed unanimously.

House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) described passage of the two bills as “a one-two punch against terrorist-backing Iran’s nuclear weapons drive.”

“Hezbollah has been able to expand both its arsenal and activities, with Iranian backing, and its long-established worldwide network of members, supporters, and sympathizers to provide this terrorist group financial, logistical, military, and other types of support,” he said in a statement.

“Hezbollah’s actions in the Middle East and around the world have only added to the volatility that has plagued the region,” said the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.). “Hezbollah serves as Iran’s proxy around the world, even as Iran seeks to conclude negotiations on its nuclear program with the international community.”

The Iran Nuclear Review Act requires the administration to submit a nuclear deal, which is due to be finalized by June 30, to Congress within five days of its completion.

Lawmakers will have 30 days to review it, during which period the president would be prohibited from waiving or suspending statutory sanctions against Iran. (If for any reason the agreement is submitted to Congress any later than July 10, the review period is extended to 60 days, during which time Obama will, again, be unable to relieve sanctions on Iran.)

Congress may then vote on “a joint resolution stating in substance that the Congress does favor the agreement,” or alternatively vote on “a joint resolution stating in substance that the Congress does not favor the agreement.” It could also decide to take no action.

Passage of a resolution of disapproval would extend the prohibition on sanctions relief for a further 12 days, and if Obama vetoed the resolution, the period would extended by a further 10 days.

Since a resolution of disapproval may not win the support necessary to override a veto, GOP leaders are reportedly considering an alternative option: a vote on a resolution of approval that would fail, thus sending a clear message that Congress is opposed to lifting the sanctions.

Absent the lifting of sanctions, the entire deal could unravel since, for the Iranians, sanctions relief is the core of any agreement.

“If there is no end to sanctions, there will not be an agreement,” Rouhani said in a televised speech last month.

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