In a notable display of bipartisanship, all 19 members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted on April 14 to approve a modified version of S. 615, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015.
The original bill, co-sponsored by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) but opposed by the Obama administration, brought together senators from both parties who were skeptical of the ongoing negotiations between the U.S., its negotiating partners, and Iran over the latter’s nuclear program. The bipartisan alliance demanded a greater role for Congress as international deliberations drew nearer to a June 30 deadline for a final deal.
The White House later accepted a revised bill reflecting a compromise worked out between Corker and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.). At risk of a Congressional override, the administration agreed to legislation that it says contains substantive changes, a notion that Corker disputes. It seems that what has emerged from the haggling between the White House and the Senate is a mechanism that, once adopted by both houses, will give Congress a role whose parameters are still somewhat murky.
What does the measure allow Congress to do?
S. 615, which is expected to be signed into law in May, grants Congress a vote on whatever deal emerges from the final negotiations between the P5 + 1 negotiating partners (the U.S., France, Great Britain, Germany, China, and Russia) and Iran, set to conclude June 30. The president cannot waive any sanctions within 30 days of submitting the agreement to Congress, or for another 12 days beyond that if Congress passes a resolution disapproving of the agreement.
What does the measure allow the president to do?
The president can veto any Congressional resolution disapproving of the deal, in which case he can lift sanctions within 52 days of his submitting the agreement to Congress—unless Congress passes the resolution with a veto-proof majority, meaning two thirds of both houses.
What else must the administration do?
The president is required to submit a final deal to Congress by July 9, or the review period is extended to 60 days. The administration also must certify to Congress every 90 days that Iran is complying with its obligations under the agreement.
How did the Corker-Cardin compromise change the legislation?
The revised bill shortens the review period for the final agreement from 60 days to 30. It also mitigates terms that would make the lifting of sanctions dependent on Iran ending its support of terrorism, although the regime’s terrorist activities and its ballistic missile program are among a range of issues outside the scope of the agreement on which the president would be required to report to Congress.
Could the legislation undergo further change?
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) withdrew plans to include an amendment that would make a final agreement with Iran dependent on the regime’s recognition of Israel, something the administration fears would scuttle the negotiations. Rubio still has the option of introducing such an amendment on the Senate floor. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) might offer a floor amendment that would categorize the Iran deal as a treaty requiring a two-thirds Senate vote for ratification. President Obama has indicated he would like no more changes to the bill.
What is the likely impact of S. 615?
The bill will give Congress greater involvement in the negotiations than it might otherwise have had. It also gives the administration greater ability to assure its negotiating partners, as well as the Iranians, that it has the legal and political support it needs in Washington to implement a final deal. Will the legislation torpedo an agreement with Iran? Only if Congress can muster a two-thirds majority in both houses to override a presidential veto. Without the bill, a skeptical Congress would not have had a vote on the final deal, although it still could have passed a law—subject to presidential veto—blocking the agreement’s implementation.
Eric Fusfield, Esq. has been the B’nai B’rith International director of legislative affairs since 2003 and the deputy director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy since 2007. He has worked in Jewish advocacy since 1998. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
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