Senate Rejects Attempt to Make Iran Nuclear Agreement a Treaty

Patrick Goodenough | April 29, 2015 | 4:07am EDT
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Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., authored the compromise bill providing for congressional review of a final Iran nuclear agreement. (AP Photo, File)

( – The U.S. Senate on Tuesday evening voted down the first of a raft of amendments to legislation providing for congressional review of a negotiated nuclear agreement with Iran, with a majority of senators rejecting a bid to give a deal international treaty status.

The amendment to the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, proposed by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), failed by 39 votes to 57.

If the agreement was deemed a treaty, ratification would require the support of 67 of the 100 senators – a threshold the Obama administration would struggle to achieve, judging from the deep misgivings expressed on both sides of the aisle over the emerging nuclear deal.

Instead, under compromise legislation crafted by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), lawmakers wanting to reject an Iran deal would need to pass a resolution of disapproval in both chambers. A presidential veto would almost certainly follow, requiring just 34 senators to be upheld.

Johnson argued on the Senate floor that this would in effect give 34 senators the ability to approve a “bad deal.”

He said he believed that the Iran nuclear agreement “is so important to the security of this nation and world peace, that it rises to the level of a treaty.”

His amendment would require the president to come to the Senate, in line with the Constitution, for its advice and consent – “so that 67 senators would have to vote affirmatively that this is a good deal.”

“Basically the American public would be involved in the decision through their elected representatives,” Johnson said.

“The American public is not being given the opportunity right now. What is happening right now under this Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act is we have turned advice and consent on his head. We have lowered the threshold to what advice and consent means as relates to this Iran deal.”

Republicans opposing Johnson’s amendment included Corker, who said it would bring an inevitable presidential veto, thus depriving Congress the ability to weigh in on the nuclear agreement at all.

“Let us not let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” he said. “Let’s ensure that we have the ability to see the details of this deal.”

GOP senators who did not heed Corker’s appeal and voted in favor of Johnson’s amendment included Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and presidential aspirant Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Two other declared Republican presidential candidates, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), did not vote.

Cruz and Rubio have amendments of their own to offer as the Senate continues to consider the Corker bill this week.

Rubio wants the legislation to include a provision requiring Iranian leaders publicly to recognize Israel’s right to exist, while Cruz’ proposal would require Congress to vote to approve any nuclear deal, rather than to vote to disapprove it, thus placing the burden on the agreement’s backers rather than on its detractors. Neither looks likely to succeed.

Corker’s bill in current form requires the president to submit the text of a final nuclear agreement to Congress within five days of its conclusion.

Congress would then have 30 days to review the deal, and will be able to vote on “a joint resolution stating in substance that the Congress does favor the agreement” or vote on “a joint resolution stating in substance that the Congress does not favor the agreement.” It could also take no action, allowing the deal to go ahead.

Corker announced Tuesday that he was submitting an amendment too, requiring not just the English-language text of the agreement to be submitted to Congress but a Farsi-language one as well.

He said this was designed to clear up any dispute between the U.S. and Iran over exactly what had been agreed upon.

After a “framework” deal was announced on April 2, laying out the parameters for a final agreement to be concluded by the end of June, major differences emerged between the two sides’ depictions of its contents, centered on the timing of the lifting of sanctions, and the question of access to military sites for foreign inspectors.

“We all saw the controversy surrounding the discrepancies between the American fact sheet and the Iranian fact sheet,” Corker said in explanation of his amendment. “This agreement is too important to rely on secondhand interpretations of the text.”

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