Lieberman Predicts Congress Will Reject Iran Deal, in ‘A Remarkable Statement to the World’

Patrick Goodenough | June 2, 2015 | 4:21am EDT
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Iran Task Force members former Sens. Joe Lieberman and Evan Bayh and former CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden discuss the Iran nuclear talks with Foundation for the Defense of Democracies senior counselor John Hannah, in Washington on Monday, June 1, 2015. (Image: C-SPAN)

( – Former Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman predicted Monday that Congress will reject the nuclear deal which the administration and its partners in the P5+1 group are negotiating with Iran. The deal is due to be completed on June 30.

Assuming an agreement is reached with Tehran, “and assuming it’s as bad as I believe it will be,” he told a Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD)/Iran Task Force event in Washington, “I believe Congress will reject the agreement.”

Such a predicted outcome should not be minimized, said the former four-term senator from Connecticut, who serves as co-chairman of the Iran Task Force.

It would be “quite a remarkable statement to the world – that the president has negotiated an agreement which bipartisan majorities in Congress will reject.”

President Obama on May 22 signed bipartisan legislation allowing Congress to review a final deal, with the possibility of a subsequent "no" vote.

(Although the U.S. Constitution allows the president can make treaties as long as two-thirds of the Senate approves them, President Obama insists the Iran deal is not a treaty. Last month, Congress passed legislation setting up a “disapproval process” for Congress. The bill, as the Heritage Foundation put it, lowers the number of Senators needed to approve the deal from 67 to 34, making it easier to Obama to enter into what some are calling a bad deal.)

If Congress votes on what the legislation describes as “a joint resolution stating in substance that the Congress does not favor the agreement” – thereby blocking sanctions relief – Obama would likely veto it.

“Is it possible to get two-thirds in both Houses [to override a veto]?” Lieberman asked. “It’s difficult, it really is.”

“But I think it’s doable. I think you need about a third of the Democrats to join most of the Republicans – I don’t know if all the Republicans will vote to override a veto – and I believe at that point there’s going to be a massive mobilization of people who feel that we’re at a turning point in history.”

If a bad deal moves ahead, putting Iran on a path to nuclear weapons capability, he said, it will compromise the security of the U.S., and that of “our children and grandchildren.”

Another former Democratic senator participating in the event, Sen. Evan Bayh (Ind.) – the other Iran Task Force co-chair – said he believed that “a significant level of skepticism about the efficacy of the deal will be in order.”

He cited difficulties in verifying Iranian compliance, and in having sanctions quickly re-imposed once they have been suspended under an agreement.

Bayh also noted the differences in interpretation between the U.S. and Iran that emerged immediately after an interim “framework” agreement was announced in April.

“It’s difficult to verify and enforce a deal where they may have sort of superficially papered over fundamental disagreements, but then immediately retreat to their respective positions shortly thereafter.”

(The two key issues in dispute following the supposed framework agreement involve the timing of the lifting of sanctions, and whether Iran will allow foreign inspectors to visit suspect military sites. They remain unresolved.)

Like Lieberman, Bayh predicted that getting the 67 votes in the Senate to override a presidential veto would be “a very difficult matter.”

“But regardless, you can have an agreement going into effect where two-thirds of the American Congress – about, roughly, a little less than two-thirds, a clear majority – would have expressed significant reservations about the agreement.”

“And that’s a very difficult position from which to be operating internationally, particularly with another presidential election coming up.”

‘Any deal is better than no deal’

Lieberman said the outcome in the Senate would largely depend on the Democrats.

“The president is the titular head of the Democratic Party. There are a lot of Democrats who like him, who feel a kind of responsibility to him,” he said, predicting that the Democratic leadership would try to “make it a test of loyalty.”

The event moderator, FDD senior counselor John Hannah, recalled that the administration has characterized critics of the deal as “warmongers” or in some cases political opportunists who pay more attention to a domestic constituency than to U.S. national interests.

Another Iran Task Force member taking part in the event, former CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden, expressed concern that because of the time and energy that have been invested in the talks, the pressure to deliver a deal has grown.

“I think the dynamics of a negotiation, as many of us feared, have created its own energy in the direction of a deal,” he said.

The administration has asserted that “no deal is better than a bad deal” but, Hayden said, “I actually think the circumstances under which we now operate, because of the energy and investment that’s been put in this, is: ‘any deal is better than no deal.’  And I fear that’s what we’ll get.”

The Iran Task Force brings together some two dozen policy experts, participating in their personal capacities. Other members include former deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Olli Heinonen and FDD executive director Mark Dubowitz.

With the deadline for a final Iran deal now less than a month away, congressional committees will hold several Iran-related hearings this week. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has scheduled a closed briefing on Tuesday with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and nuclear and non-proliferation experts.

On Wednesday, a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing examines implications of an Iran deal for U.S. Mideast policy, with former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey and former Mideast envoy Martin Indyk.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday will hold a hearing on four Americans held by Iran – Pastor Saeed Abedini, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, retired FBI agent Bob Levinson, and Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian.

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