GOP Eyes Veto-Proof Sanctions Bill

GOP Eyes Veto-Proof Sanctions Bill
GOP Eyes Veto-Proof Sanctions Bill

A top Republican senator said on Sunday that the upper chamber upon returning to work next month under GOP control will likely make imposing new sanctions on Iran a top priority.

"Majority Leader (Mitch) McConnell has said the first vote … will be to approve the Keystone pipeline," GOP Sen. Mark Kirk told Fox News' "America's News Headquarters." "He has also said the second big vote will be on Iran sanctions so I would expect that coming up."

Republicans and some Democrats at the US Congress have pushed for sanctions to get Iran to agree to a deal that would halt its alleged pursuit of the capability to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies its nuclear program may have any military objectives, saying the work is solely for peaceful applications, such electricity generation.

Such calls have been led by GOP Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte.

They say the deal should not include giving Iran the continued capacity to enrich uranium.

However, President Barack Obama and other Washington Democrats have continued to ask Congress to delay such a vote while negotiations appear to be reaching final, critical stages.

"A collapse of the talks is counter to US interests and would further destabilize an already volatile region," Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, outgoing chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told Reuters.

A tentative agreement was reached late last year. However, Iran and the major powers in late November failed for a second time this year to reach a final deal, which has prompted new calls on Capitol Hill for more sanctions.

House Speaker John Boehner has already indicated support for sanctions.

Kirk said on Sunday that Senate Republicans might have enough Democratic support to pass veto-proof legislation on more sanctions, naming Democratic Sens. Bob Menendez and Chuck Schumer as potential yeah votes.

"The good thing about those votes, they will be really bipartisan votes," he said. "I have 17 Democrats with me. … We have a shot at even getting to a veto-proof majority in the Senate. That's what we'll be working on, a good bipartisan vote."

  Following Netanyahu's Lead

Sen. Graham also said on Saturday that the Senate will take up an Iran sanctions bill in January, setting up a tough vote for Democrats, the Hill reported.

During an appearance alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, Graham said there will be a vote on legislation drafted by Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez and Sen. Mark Kirk in January. The measure would impose additional sanctions on Iran if it violates the interim nuclear agreement or walks away from talks.

"I'm here to tell you, Mr. Prime Minister, that Congress will follow your lead," Graham said. "In January of next year, there will be a vote on the Kirk-Menendez bill, bipartisan sanction legislation that says, if Iran walks away from the table, sanctions will be re-imposed; if Iran cheats regarding any deal that we enter to the Iranians, sanctions will be re-imposed."

The issue is a thorny one for Democrats. The bill gained 16 Democratic co-sponsors in the Congress that just ended. The Obama administration, though, is opposed to new sanctions as negotiations with Iran continue.

"We continue to believe that adding on sanctions while negotiations are ongoing would be counterproductive," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said last month after the talks were extended.  

The Obama administration is trying to reach a deal that would impose constraints on Iran's nuclear program for a specified period of time in exchange for the phasing-out of the sanctions that are already in place.

Graham, a leading foreign policy hawk, offered strong words in support of Israel during his appearance. Netanyahu has been a tough critic of the Obama administration's Iran policy.

"I would love nothing better than a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear ambitions," Graham said. "I support the administration's effort to try to bring this to a peaceful conclusion. But… sanctions are what got Iran to the table, and it will be the only thing that brings them to a deal that we can all live with."

Iran denies the claim that sanctions have compelled it to sit at the negotiating table, saying it has engaged in the negotiations to ease concerns over its peaceful nuclear program to help resolve an "unnecessary" dispute.  

Graham also expressed hope that his bill with Sen. Bob Corker to require congressional approval of a deal with Iran would have bipartisan support.  

"You will see a very vigorous Congress, when it comes to Iran," he said. "You will see a Congress making sure sanctions are real and will be re-imposed at the drop of a hat. You will see Congress wanting to have a say about any final deal."