Senate Committee to Vote on Iran Legislation

Senate Committee to Vote on Iran Legislation Senate Committee to Vote on Iran Legislation

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker hopes to have his committee vote on legislation giving the US Congress a say over a nuclear deal with Iran in the next few weeks.

Corker is seeking a vote right after next week's recess, potentially setting up one more congressional showdown with the Barack Obama administration over Iran, Al-Monitor reported on Wednesday.

The White House has vowed to veto any legislation that would force an up-or-down vote on a final deal, arguing that it would derail the ongoing multiparty talks.

"I hope to be in a position fairly soon after recess to do something on it," Corker said. One source close to the issue said a committee markup of the bill has been tentatively scheduled for the last week of February.

Corker introduced legislation last year that would in effect have given Congress veto power over a final agreement, but he suggested Feb. 11 that the new bill may differ substantially. He told Al-Monitor that the mechanism by which Congress would weigh in was an "evolving concept" as he tweaks his bill to get more members of both parties on board, but that his goal remains "for the president to have to submit this to Congress."

"We are working to find a way for Congress to have its rightful role and ability to weigh in on this topic. And I'll just leave it at that, because it's evolving," Corker said. "We've had some interesting differing ways of looking at it that I think will make it more appealing."

The latest push comes just after the White House dodged a bullet last month when hawkish Democrats agreed to wait to see if there's a preliminary deal by the end of March before voting on a separate bill that would impose escalating sanctions on Iran if talks drag on. Supporters say that bill would strengthen the hand of negotiators, but opponents say it would cause Iran to leave the negotiating table.

***Seeking Bipartisan Support

Drafts have been circulating on Capitol Hill for more than a week as Corker seeks to line up, said a source tracking the issue closely. The chairman wants to avoid turning Iran into a purely partisan issue and may need extra Democratic votes to get the bill out of committee if Republican doves Rand Paul and Jeff Flake vote against it.

"I think there are a number of people on the other side of the aisle who feel that it's appropriate for Congress to play this kind of role," Corker told Al-Monitor. "We are working with the other side of the aisle to develop something that can generate broad support."

One key Democrat that Corker has likely been talking to is Senator Tim Kaine, the former top Democrat on the Middle East panel and a champion of congressional power. Another is Senator Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the committee and a co-author of sanctions legislation that would kick in if there's no deal by the end of June.

"I think Congress has to weigh in on a final deal," Kaine said at a January 21 hearing with administration officials.

"The only lever in this negotiation is the congressionally imposed sanctions regime," Kaine said at the time. "And … while limited waivers were certainly contemplated [in the sanctions legislation], I don't think a blanket suspension for a period of time was contemplated. And so, I do think it is very important for Congress to be able to weigh in on this deal, especially given the actor that we're dealing with."