Legislation on Senate Approval for Iran Nuclear Deal Continues to Pick Up Bipartisan Support

Patrick Goodenough | March 19, 2015 | 12:17am EDT
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Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., right, and ranking member Robert Menendez, D-N.J. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

(CNSNews.com) – Legislation that would provide for Congress to review and approve any final deal on Iran’s nuclear programs is slowly picking up support from senators on both sides of the aisle.

The uptick of co-sponsorship for the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act comes despite the administration’s threats to veto it, despite a direct appeal to the chief sponsor by White House chief of staff Denis McDonough, and despite the controversy over 47 GOP senators’ March 9 letter to Iran.

Since the White House warned 18 days ago that it would veto the bill, it has picked up six more co-sponsors. Five of them – including Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet (Colo.) and Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) –signed up after the row erupted over the open letter, initiated by freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), advising Iran’s leaders that any nuclear deal not approved by Congress could be scrapped by a future president.

The bill, introduced by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and ranking member Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), now has another 16 co-sponsors, six of them Democrats and one independent. The full list appears below.

Although critical of the Cotton letter, Blumenthal became the latest to join the list of co-sponsors on Tuesday.

He told MSNBC the same day he believed Obama would be “wise to come to Congress” for it to approve an Iran deal.

“The president really needs a national consensus,” Blumenthal said. “He needs popular support behind this agreement, and that’s why I think he would be wise to not only submit but in fact ask that the Senate review and approve this deal, when and if it’s concluded – it’s still a big if.”

The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act would require the president to submit any Iran nuclear agreement to Congress within five days of its conclusion.

It would also prohibit the administration from suspending sanctions against Tehran for 60 days during which Congress could hold hearings before approving, rejecting, or taking no action on, the agreement.

Further, it would require the president to certify every three months that Iran has not breached the nuclear deal, taken any action to “significantly advance” a nuclear weapons program, or “directly supported, financed, planned, or carried out an act of terrorism against the United States.”

A Rasmussen Reports poll of American voters published on Wednesday found that 60 percent of respondents believe Congress should approve any Iran nuclear agreement.

John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State, center, walks outside the hotel during a break after bilateral nuclear talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in Lausanne, Switzerland on March 17, 2015. (AP Photo/Keystone, Jean-Christophe Bott)

Secretary of State John Kerry spent a third day Wednesday in negotiations with Iranian officials in Lausanne, Switzerland.

With the deadline for a political understanding on a comprehensive final agreement coming up fast – lawmakers have said March 24, but the administration says March 31 – Corker is reported to be considering a committee mark-up as early as March 25 or 26.

Early this month Majority Leader Mitch McConnell upset Menendez and other Democrats supportive of the legislation by attempting to fast-track the initiative. In a letter outlining their concerns, they told McConnell they would “only vote for this bill after it has gone through the regular mark-up process in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and after the March 24th deadline” for the Iran deal.

After the legislation was introduced at the end of February, National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said that President Obama “has been clear that now is not the time for Congress to pass additional legislation on Iran. If this bill is sent to the president, he will veto it.”

On March 12, Corker wrote to Obama, saying that any effort to circumvent Congress and go straight to the U.N. Security Council to implement a nuclear agreement with Iran would be “a direct affront to the American people.”

In response, McDonough last weekend wrote Corker on behalf of the president, saying that the legislation would have a negative impact on the negotiations between the P5+1 group – the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – and Iran.

He said it would embolden Iranian hardliners, invite an unproductive response from Iranian lawmakers, draw a distinction between the U.S. position and those of its P5+1 partners, and call into question “our ability to negotiate this deal.”

“In addition to its impact on the negotiations, this legislation would also set a potentially damaging precedent for constraining future Presidents of either party from pursuing the conduct of essential diplomatic negotiations,” McDonough wrote, and reiterated the veto warning.

Corker said last week he was focused on securing a veto-proof majority of votes – 67 – in support of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act.

In date order, current sponsors are Sens. Corker (R-Tenn.), Menendez (R-N.J.), Lindsey Graham (R- S.C.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), James Risch (R-Ind.), Angus King (I-Maine), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.).

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