After passing out of committee unanimously a couple of weeks ago, the Corker-Menendez Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act -- now amended and rechristened as Corker-Cardin -- goes before the full Senate. If it maintains the form that Sens. Bob Corker and Ben Cardin agreed on, it will easily pass the Senate. And if, after that, it somehow worms through the House untarnished, the president has said he will sign it. Congress will get its review of the deal. But will that review be worth anything?
The White House hates that Congress wants to get its paws on its carefully crafted, would-be multilateral deal restraining the Iranian nuclear program. That it's agreed to sign this bill should tell you something: It's been amended to be relatively pain-free. It still includes a review period required before the president can waive any sanctions on Iran, but now it's 30 days instead of 60. The extraneous provision requiring the administration to certify that Iran has not sanctioned any acts of terrorism against U.S. interest is withdrawn. And Congress would essentially need a veto-proof majority on a resolution of disapproval to block the deal from going through.
"Toothless" is another word to describe this review act, and anti-deal hawks have taken notice. That's the descriptor offered by neoconservative editorialist Bill Kristol, who's explicitly called on Congress to use whatever means it has at its disposable to kill a deal. In his most recent Weekly Standard column, Kristol tells GOP senators that Corker-Cardin, as it is, won't fly:
There is no reason to think that passage of this bill, as it now stands, significantly increases the chance of reversing such a deal once it is agreed to. There is every reason to think, if the bill passes without serious debate, that it will have the opposite effect—of giving the illusion that Congress is really doing something to stop or slow down a bad deal when it is not.
As with most Bill Kristol articles, the first few paragraphs are about Munich, 1938, and how current events are analogous to it. Eventually he gets to the point, though, urging Republican senators to offer a bunch of amendments on the floor next week.
Certain Republican senators don't need to be told.
Sen. Marco Rubio has already filed seven amendments, Roll Call reports. Most prominently there's one that requires Iran to recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. Recognizing Israel officially as a Jewish state is something that not even Israel itself can agree to do, and the right to exist is not something that's been required in peace agreements between Israel and Arab states in the past. Insisting that this be part of the deal is a way of saying a) that you're looking to advance your presidential campaign and b) you don't want a deal.
Sen. Jonny Isakson has lined up an amendment requiring "compensation for the American diplomats taken hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran more than three decades ago."
Sen. John Barrasso has an amendment (that failed in committee) that would reintroduce the terrorism certification language.
Sen. Ron Johnson has an amendment to treat the deal like a treaty -- i.e., one that would requiring a two-thirds Senate vote to approve.
Lest you thought Sen. Ted Cruz would be left out of the mix, he "has drafted an amendment with Republican Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania designed to require lawmakers to approve any final deal reached with Tehran, rather than establish a process for expressing disapproval, as currently drafted." So, similar to the Johnson amendment.
If any of these amendments pass, the president's veto threat will be back on. It won't even get to his desk, though -- Democratic senators, even previously incorrigible ones like Bob Menendez and Tim Kaine, have signaled that they'll withdraw their support if the deal reached in committee falls through.
Republican senators have two options: They can pass the bill as is, and at least have an admittedly long-shot chance of securing a veto-proof disapproval resolution after a deal has been reached, or they can muck it up with amendments, kill the bill, and have zero chance of doing anything about the Iran deal.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Corker, far and away the most reasonable tactician in the Senate Republican conference, is making this precise argument to the fellow members of his majority.
And in a message that seems designed for Republicans, Corker is already warning that the alternative to the legislation he put together with Cardin, Menendez and others, would be to grant all ultimate authority to Obama.
“Without this bill, there is nothing stopping the president from bypassing the American people, immediately waiving sanctions imposed by Congress and unilaterally implementing an agreement with Iran,” Corker said. “This legislation ensures the president will submit an agreement to Congress for review and a vote.”
Corker and other Republicans leaders feel confident enough in their ability to stand together as a bloc and defeat any poison pill amendments. Well, good luck. Because not many Republican senators, or Democratic senators for that matter, are going to enjoy voting against an amendment that requires Iran to recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state.