Warmongers get schooled: How GOP hawks lost their chance to scuttle an Iran deal

The Iran review bill is flying through Congress, but House Dems are making their pro-deal stance clear

Published May 8, 2015 11:58AM (EDT)

  (AP/Danny Johnston/Jim Bryant/Photo montage by Salon)
(AP/Danny Johnston/Jim Bryant/Photo montage by Salon)

The Senate finally passed the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act yesterday by a margin of 98-1. The process of getting it to the finish line was not as easy as that vote count suggests.

The amendment process was disrupted by some showmanship from Sens. Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton, whose stunt to force votes on their poison pill amendments pulled the curtain early on the debate process. (It provided a nice splash page for Rubio's campaign website, though. Rubio's job in the Senate is now largely confined to trolling his colleagues for splash page material.) Then Sen. David Vitter, who's aiming to ride his similarly useless, stunt-driven Senate record to a stint in the Louisiana governor's mansion, held up the process because he didn't get a vote on his oh-so-vital pwecious amendment. Eventually everyone relented and voted for the bill, except for Tom Cotton, whom neoconservatives will surely cheer for this latest episode of Churchillian resistance.

The bill now heads over to the House, where some conservatives will probably want to attach colorful amendments, and John Boehner, like Mitch McConnell, will have to shut them out to avoid resurrecting the White House veto threat. Should it escape that process untarnished, it will likely receive an overwhelming majority there and then President Obama will sign it into law.

And if the administration, in concert with fellow P5+1 negotiators, finishes off a final agreement with the Iranians that resembles the preliminary framework released in early April, it will almost certainly go into effect without congressional resistance.

That's because Senate Democrats were able to defang the original Corker-Menendez review bill in the process of converting it into the Corker-Cardin bill. Certain extraneous provisions that threatened negotiations were removed. If diplomats reach a deal with Iran, Congress will still have 30 days to review it before the administration can suspend sanctions. After that 30-day period, the only way Congress could prevent the administration from suspending sanctions would be disapproval resolution. Since that would be subject to veto, Congress would need two-thirds majorities to override the president on its disapproval resolution. Corker-Cardin gives Congress a chance to kill the Iran deal. But unless the final agreement hands Iran control of the United States government or something, it's a slim chance.

As the Senate prepared to move Corker-Cardin yesterday, House Democrats made a public display of just how slim that chance will be. One hundred and fifty House Dems signed a letter to the president signaling their support for the negotiations. As the Washington Post's Greg Sargent writes, "the letter does not commit its signatories to ultimately supporting a final deal," but it does express support for fleshing out the "strong framework" that's already been released. "This letter reflects wide support for the agreement as outlined in the framework," Rep. Jan Schakowsky tells Sargent.

One hundred and fifty is not some random number. A two-thirds majority of the House is 290 votes. With 150 withheld, that leaves only 285 in play. The president should have enough House votes to sustain his veto on a disapproval resolution if it comes to that.

The Corker-Cardin has split deal skeptics since it was amended to its softer version in committee. Some groups, like AIPAC, were lobbying Republicans not to scuttle it with poison pill amendments, banking on that slim shot that it offers Congress down the road. Other more CHURCHILLIAN! neoconservatives would rather do without Corker-Cardin altogether, since it isn't likely to stop the deal but will allow the administration to argue that it had congressional buy-in.

There are no great options for the hawks, here. It almost sounds like they got strategically outplayed by the notoriously terrible negotiators in the Obama White House. Cheers!

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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