How the GOP boxed themselves in on the Iran Deal

· September 9, 2015  
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Fulfilling a Republican campaign promise, Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, signs the bill authorizing expansion of the Keystone XL pipeline. J. Scott Applewhite | AP Photo

If you agree that President Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran is a bad deal, then get ready for more bad news.  The Republican leadership’s strategy has made it very difficult to stop the Iran agreement.

The ill-conceived Corker-Cardin legislation that passed earlier this year set up a perverted procedure whereas Republicans must now secure two-thirds of the support of both chambers of Congress to pass a resolution to disapprove of the Obama Iran deal and overcome a presidential veto.  This is completely backwards.  Supporters of the Obama deal should need a two-thirds vote of the Senate to approve the deal under treaty rules.

Most agree that the Obama Iran agreement is a treaty, because it alters an existing treaty.  According to Harold Furtchtgott-Roth writing in Forbes, “the United States ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1969 after the U.S. Senate advised ratification in accordance with the U.S. Constitution, and the treaty went into effect in 1970.”  The Obama agreement unconstitutionally alters the NPT.

The passage of Corker-Cardin was the moment when Republican leaders in the Surrender Caucus engaged in unilateral “political disarmament.”   The bill set up a procedure where Republicans would be allowed to express opposition to the agreement, yet they paid a high price by setting up a vote that they inevitably will lose.  When Republicans lose, the President will declare victory.

Republican leaders should have listened to Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), the sole no vote in the Senate on Corker-Cardin, when he argued “a nuclear-arms agreement with any adversary—especially the terror-sponsoring, Islamist Iranian regime—should be submitted as a treaty and obtain a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate as required by the Constitution.”  Had the Republican controlled Congress listed to Sen. Cotton over President Obama, the Obama Administration would have needed a two-thirds vote of the Senate to pass this agreement as a treaty.

Senate leadership is planning one week worth of debate before a vote on the resolution of disapproval. Senate Republican leadership knows that they are going to lose this debate and no resolution is going to get over the 60-vote hurdle needed to shut down a filibuster, yet they are willing to accept defeat.

AsPolitico reports “with senators antsy to begin their August recess after a mostly fruitless week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) reached an agreement to start consideration of the Iran deal as soon as lawmakers return from the break.” 

According to the agreement, the Senate will proceed to H.J. Res. 61, a bill dealing with Obamacare, after which the Majority Leader will be recognized to offer a substitute amendment relating to congressional disapproval of the proposed Iran nuclear deal.

More from Politico, “McConnell has said he hopes that all 100 senators participate in the Iran discussion while at their desks and has suggested that all committee hearings be canceled during the deliberations.”  Unlikely that Leader McConnell plays hardball to break Democrats from filibustering the agreement. 

Under the Senate rules, McConnell could refuse to adjourn the Senate and force Democrats—the same Democrats who cried about the filibuster for years—to engage in a talking filibuster of the resolution of disapproval.

Nobody expects Republican leaders to put up a real fight.

What Are Conservatives’ Options to Fight This Agreement? 

It is possible that conservatives in the Senate can still try to have the agreement declared a treaty. Christopher Hull at US News puts it succinctly, “Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo and Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, both Republicans, revealed that the Iran deal includes secret side-agreements the Obama administration appears to have deliberately withheld from Congress. That move is a prima facie violation of Corker-Cardin, which mandates that the administration provide everything to Congress, namely the ‘annexes, appendices, codicils, side agreements, implementing materials, documents, and guidance, technical or other understandings and any related agreements, whether entered into or implemented prior to the agreement or to be entered into or implemented in the future.”  That gives Republicans an argument that the Corker-Cardin bill’s procedures do not apply.

A senator could offer an amendment with the text of the agreement, then offer a motion to refer the agreement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to be reported back to the Senate as a treaty.  This is not likely to pass, yet it should be done to make the case that this is a treaty, not an executive agreement.

Another option is to offer an amendment with the text of the agreement and demand it be considered under regular order like any other piece of legislation.  The procedures in Corker-Cardin have been violated and a strong case can be made that the special Corker-Cardin procedures do not apply. The benefit of going this route is that the agreement would have to be passed by a majority of both chambers before the President signs it.  Under the current political climate, this bill would not pass the House.

Lastly, another option is going to have to wait for a few weeks.  Senators should use the Continuing Resolution (CR), the bill that will fund the government starting on October 1, to defund implementation of the Obama Iran agreement and to impose conditions.  The first condition should mandate that no money be expended to implement this agreement until the four Americans being held hostage in Iran are freed.  Defunding the implementation of this agreement should be a priority of this Congress and they should not give up after they fail to pass a resolution of disapproval this week.

Sadly, conservatives don’t control the House or the Senate, so they are going to have to use extraordinary measures to thwart the deal. 


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Author: Brian Darling