Senate Committee Reschedules Iran Hearing

Senate Committee Reschedules Iran Hearing
Senate Committee Reschedules Iran Hearing

The US Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee rescheduled for January 29 a hearing on Iran sanctions legislation entitled "Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015", which was supposed to be held on Thursday, according to the website of the committee.      

The legislation which has been drafted by Republican Senator Mark Kirk and Democratic Senator Robert Menendez calls for more sanctions on Iran if there is no final nuclear deal by the June 30 deadline for the talks between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permamant members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) on a long-term settlement to the 12-year dispute over Tehran's nuclear program.

Kirk and Menendez had introduced the first version of the sanctions bill in December 2013, but it did not come up for a vote in the Senate, then controlled by US President Barack Obama's fellow Democrats, who lost control of the chamber because of big losses in November elections.

The Hill reported on Monday that Kirk and Menendez are moving quickly to bring their bill to the floor, defying warnings from administration officials who say the legislation could blow up the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.

It also reported that supporters of Iran sanctions legislation are betting they can secure the 67 Senate votes needed to override a veto from President Obama.

"We have a fighting chance of getting strong, overwhelming support as we have in the past," a senior congressional aide said on Monday.

While it is not clear when the sanctions bill could come up for a floor vote, senators say Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to act on it "very quickly."

If all 54 Senate Republicans voted for the sanctions bill, they would need only 13 Democrats to secure a veto-proof majority. Twelve Democrats who co-sponsored the earlier version of the legislation still serve in the Senate.

Supporters of the sanctions bill stopped short of predicting victory but said they are moving forward with a veto-proof majority in mind.  

"We're going for a law. ... We've had longstanding bipartisan engagement on this issue," the aide said, pointing to four previous instances when Congress has passed sanctions legislation with more than enough votes to overcome a veto.  

***A Close Fight

Both sides of the debate agree it will be a close fight, with all eyes on the Democrats who are likely to break with the White House.

Senator Bob Casey, an original co-sponsor of sanctions legislation, told Bloomberg last week he supports "moving forward" on the bill before the June 30 deadline for finishing the talks.

Casey and three other Democratic co-sponsors of the original bill recently sounded a hawkish tone on Iran sanctions.

"As we continue our diplomatic efforts, it is vitally important that existing US sanctions continue to be strictly enforced," wrote Casey and Senators Charles Schumer, Richard Blumenthal and Kirsten Gillibrand in a January 2 letter to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.  

Schumer, a strong backer of the Menendez-Kirk bill and strong supporter of Israel, has previously whipped votes for the sanctions bill.  

Senator Ben Cardin, another original co-sponsor, said on Sunday he also supports imposing sanctions but was vague on what timing he would prefer.

The senior congressional aide said proponents are not taking any Democratic votes for granted, regardless of whether a senator has backed sanctions legislation in the past.

"The votes are what count at the end of the day. And, unlike last year, it's a certainty that senators will vote on Iran soon," the aide said.  

It is not certain that the sanctions bill would get unanimous support from Republicans.

Senator Lindsey Graham said on Sunday on NBC"s "Meet the Press" he would agree to table the bill if Obama agrees to let Congress approve or disapprove of any deal.