4/6/15, "Chuck Schumer bucks White House on Iran," Politico, Burgess Everett
"The top Democrat throws his weight behind legislation to give Congress power to reject a deal."
The comments Monday by the Democratic leader-in-waiting illustrate the enormity of the task ahead for President Barack Obama and his team: While there’s no guarantee that Congress would ultimately reject an agreement with Iran, there’s an increasingly bipartisan consensus that Congress should at least have the ability to do so.
“This is a very serious issue that deserves careful consideration, and I expect to have a classified briefing in the near future. I strongly believe Congress should have the right to disapprove any agreement and I support the Corker bill which would allow that to occur,” Schumer said in an emailed statement to POLITICO.
Schumer had quietly signed on to a bill allowing congressional review of the Iran deal two weeks ago, but made little fanfare of his co-sponsorship. In a brief statement on Friday, he said only that he’d review the agreement. Now that the outlines of an agreement are known, Schumer’s emphatic statement that Congress has an important role becomes more significant, signaling to fellow Democrats that it’s safe to jump on board the review bill.
His comments came as the White House press secretary was panning the legislation, which was written by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and would allow Congress to vote to suspend the lifting of sanctions. A committee vote on the measure is planned for next week.
Schumer is a potentially decisive figure in whether the Iran measure will eclipse veto-proof support in Congress, given his expected ascension to the Democratic leader’s job in 2017 and the diminished influence of indicted Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who recently relinquished his position as the top Democrat on the foreign relations panel.
Within the Senate Democratic caucus, a dozen senators have either cosponsored Corker’s legislation or indicated they could support it. That would put the measure one vote shy of a veto-proof majority.
On Monday, three more Democratic senators — Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Claire McCaskill of Missouri — left open the possibility of voting it, according to aides. Their support, however, could hinge on whether Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the new ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, is able to negotiate concessions that alleviate concerns the bill could derail any agreement.
Capitol Hill aides in both parties on Monday said it is not clear what changes Democrats will seek.
The bill would give Congress 60 days to review the Iran framework by freezing sanction relief and allowing lawmakers the ability to formally disapprove or approve of the legislation. One possibility is to clarify that the legislation only governs congressional sanctions rather than ones that originated from global agreements or the White House.
With no co-sponsors publicly backing away from Corker’s bill in recent days, Democratic supporters said they have detected a shift in rhetoric from the White House. They pointed to President Barack Obama’s comment to The New York Times over the weekend in which he suggested finding a legislative compromise “that allows Congress to express itself but does not encroach on traditional presidential prerogatives.”
“I read what the president said last night, looking for a way to work with Congress on that. They are now in a realistic position: That Congress is going to weigh in,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who co-wrote the bill while making technical consultations with the White House. He called Obama’s tone in that interview “just a recognition of the reality of the situation” on Capitol Hill.
But White House press secretary Josh Earnest declined to entertain that possibility, telling reporters on Monday that the White House sees no way to reconcile Corker’s bill with the president’s mission of finishing Iran negotiations before Congress votes on anything.
“It could potentially interfere with the ongoing negotiations,” Earnest said, insisting that Congress wait until after the June 30 deadline for a final agreement before voting on the legislation.
Such a delay appears increasingly unlikely, however. Corker said he plans to hold a committee vote on April 14, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) vowed Monday that the full Senate will consider the bill shortly after that.
Corker insists the point of his bill is to work in a tandem with the negotiations. In a lengthy interview after the deal was announced, he repeatedly said he’s been told by nuclear negotiators that simply introducing his bill with bipartisan support strengthened the president’s hand.
“They (the Iranians) believe that Congress is going to weigh in,” Corker said of the White House.
“And I do realize that that’s had a positive effect on the negotiations, which is one of our goals.”
Kaine said he carefully studied a bill spearheaded by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) that would tighten sanctions if Iran reneges on an interim agreement or walks away from ongoing talks. He concluded that the sanctions bill might violate the spirit of the agreement, but the review measure does the opposite.
“The argument that the Corker bill somehow interferes with the negotiations is a complete red herring,” Kaine said. “I did not sign onto this bill because of an anti-diplomacy mind-set.”
Indeed, in interviews after the agreement was announced, few congressional Democrats were eager to see the deal fall apart even as they press for legislation the White House opposes.
“The [Democrats] who do support it, support it on the principal of congressional review,” said one Democratic source closely following the talks.
If the GOP wants Congress to formally reject the lifting of sanctions on Iran — and likely kill the nuclear agreement — it faces an arduous task with no guarantee of success. First, Corker must rally and hold together at least 13 Democrats to support his approval bill, which then would likely face easy passage in the House. The president could then take his time vetoing the legislation before sending it back to the Hill for a high-stakes override vote.
Then Republicans could file a motion of disapproval, a process established by the Corker bill that would set a high bar for rejecting the lifting of sanctions. That motion would also have to withstand a presidential veto, which means 13 Senate Democrats and dozens in the House would have to vote against the White House’s deal. The entire process could easily take until late May, and all along the White House would be free to continue ironing out the final technical document governing the deal.
Still, the administration is taking no chances. In addition to the one-on-one phone diplomacy being conducted by the president, Vice President Joe Biden and Cabinet officials during the congressional recess, the administration will hold an open briefing for House and Senate members on Wednesday at the State Department, a senior administration confirmed.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Wednesday is also the deadline for senators to file amendments to Corker’s bill in committee, where Democrats may stand their best chance of incorporating changes intended to soften the legislation." via Free Rep.