by Derek Davison
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker (R-TN) sufficiently neutered his Iran deal review bill—now known as the “Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act”—that two weeks ago it passed out of his committee unanimously. Moreover, the White House promised not to veto it. Of course, that White House pledge was predicated on Corker’s bill being passed as is, unamended, by the full Senate and then the House. According to The New York Times, that’s not going to happen:
A bill to give Congress a voice in the nuclear deal with Iran is now endangered by Republican amendments that would peel away bipartisan support for a measure begrudgingly accepted by the White House this month.
Amendments filed by lawmakers last week include one that would require Iran to recognize Israel and another that would give any final nuclear deal the status of a treaty, which would require ratification by two-thirds of the Senate. Another proposal would require the release of American citizens detained in Iran as part of an agreement.
These proposed amendments include some obvious “poison pills.” For instance, requiring Iran to recognize Israel is a worthy effort in principle, but it simply isn’t happening in the short term, and there’s no particular reason to demand that it should happen as part of this nuclear deal. Also included is some bad precedent setters. So, for example, if the Iran deal is legally defined as a “treaty,” then it’s hard to envision any future international agreement not being defined that way, which would severely tie the hands of future presidents in conducting foreign policy. Finally, there are some probably well-intentioned but misguided amendments. We need to negotiate the release of Americans being unjustly imprisoned in Iran, but it should be done in parallel to or immediately after concluding the nuclear agreement, which is plenty complex enough without adding other issues to the discussion.
What these proposed amendments all have in common is that, if they’re added to the Corker bill, the White House’s promise not to veto it becomes null and void. In addition, at least some of the bill’s Democratic support (necessary to override a veto) will peel away, putting the bill’s chances of passing in peril. So say both Corker and Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Ben Cardin (D-MD), who have been heavily lobbying their fellow senators to leave the bill alone. They know its chances of being enacted decrease the more amendments are heaped upon it.
Presumably the Republicans who are about to try to load the Corker bill up with those amendments realize what they’re doing. It’s a mistake to assume anything with the “Bomb Bomb Iran” types, whose stunts so far have done more to hurt their cause than to further it. But at least a few of them must realize the likely outcome. So why are they killing the one chance they have at even slightly increasing congressional oversight of a comprehensive deal?
Former Bush DOJ lawyer—so you know I’m not cherry-picking from a dovish blog—Jack Goldsmith essentially says it’s about political optics:
In this light, I can think of three related reasons why opponents of the Iran deal want to include amendments to kill the Iran Review bill even though doing so would make it “easier” for the President to implement the deal. First, they might want to burnish their credentials as anti-Iran hawks. (Amendment sponsors include presidential candidates Senators Cruz and Rubio.) Second, they might think that passing the Review bill and then failing to overcome a veto is worse politically (i.e. looks like more of a win for the President) than if the bill does not pass and they are unable to muster the veto-proof votes to kill the Iran deal. Perhaps they think the stakes of the loss are lower without the extensive and elaborate information-gathering and review that the Iran Review bill contemplates. Third, the unamended bill allows Democrats to appear slightly tough on Iran by voting to review the Iran deal and to delay its implementation, safe in the knowledge that the leader of the party can still negotiate and implement the kind of deal he wants. The amendments complicate this position since the Democrats have to vote (and take a stand on) them.
Instead of half a loaf, these brave defenders against Iranian aggression prefer no loaf because that will probably look better to Republican primary voters and big-money donors. Taking House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) at his word when he says he doesn’t have the votes to override an Obama veto of any resolution disapproving of a comprehensive Iran deal, they figure that passing Corker (which provides the opportunity for such a resolution) won’t make any difference in the end. So they might as well use the opportunity to engage in a little futile political theater. They’re being joined in this effort by the usual 101st Chairborne neocons, like Commander Bill Kristol and torture fan (and still inexplicably a columnist at a major newspaper) Marc Thiessen. Let’s see how it works out for them.