Today, Congressional support for the Nuclear Deal with Iran reached a critical tipping point as Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) became the 34th Senator to back the Deal, ensuring that a vote of disapproval will not survive a Presidential veto. In preparation for this moment, Republicans have been frantically rearranging their goalposts. When the Nuclear Deal with Iran was announced in mid-July, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK), one of the loudest opponents of the deal, told reporters he was “confident that the American people will repudiate this dangerous deal and Congress will kill the deal.” Since then, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker (R-TN) have been lowering expectations, saying they don’t think they have the votes to pull that off, and today we know for sure.
This is a huge victory for the peace movement. We were up against tens of millions of dollars in advertising and a massive lobbying campaign and as of today it looks like the agreement’s opponents don’t have the votes to override a veto. We need to remain on the offensive as every vote in the House and Senate counts if we want a sustainable agreement that is strong enough to withstand the future challenges that are sure to come. As a next step, we must keep pushing to make sure we have 41 pro-deal Senators that will vote to block anti-deal legislation from getting to the President’s desk. If we can avoid the circus of a resolution of disapproval being sent to the President, we will have saved the United States from sending very harmful signals to our allies and Iran that the United States is an unreliable partner.
In fact, we should expect a number of attacks on the agreement both in the critical next couple of weeks and beyond. Throughout negotiations and particularly since the deal was announced, Republican lawmakers have been scrambling to find ways to obstruct, circumvent, or otherwise obliterate the nuclear agreement with Iran. Most of the options they’ve brought up are either outrageous, ill advised, or both.
Here are just some of the ideas that have been suggested to weaken or block the agreement: Sen. McConnell at one point brought up the possibility of holding a vote of approval rather than disapproval (even though the vote of approval wouldn’t need to pass for the deal to stand) to draw attention to the fact that a majority of Congress is against the deal. Former Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN), a board member of the America Security Initiative, which has spent $10 million opposing the deal, recently announced that there would be ads coming out asking lawmakers who have already declared their support to change their minds. Sen. Cotton at one point suggested blocking judicial nominations and implied that Republicans would run attack ads against Democrats who supported the Nuclear Deal. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) even called for defunding the IAEA – the very organization that will be assuring the world that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons – unless it reveals its confidential agreement with Iran (the same type of confidential agreement the IAEA has with the US).
While the above strategies would most likely backfire and/or fail to significantly undermine the deal, one tried and true tactic is re-emerging that could potentially cause major problems for the future of the nuclear agreement.
Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) are introducing a bill that would extend a 20-year old sanctions bill against Iran for another 10 years. Currently the law is set to expire at the end of 2016. Given that the nuclear agreement is predicated on sanctions relief for Iran, extending this sanctions bill could be seen as a violation of the agreement, especially if Congress adds in new sanctions as it may be tempted to do. Also in the works are possible sanctions bills that would impose new “non-nuclear” sanctions based purportedly on human rights or terrorism concerns. However, if those sanctions have the same or similar impacts in practice as the nuclear-related sanctions, it could appear that Congress is doing a sneaky end run around what the administration agreed to.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) is also pushing for new sanctions on Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC). This too could easily be perceived by Iran and our allies as simply a rewording of the past nuclear-related sanctions that have been suspended under the agreement. Any of these new sanctions approaches could give Iran the pretext to walk away from the deal while saddling the US with the blame for the deal’s failure.
As if those bills weren’t enough trouble on the sanctions front, on August 30, Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt stole a page from the anti-Obamacare handbook by turning to the states. These two came out with an op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal titled “Let States Do the Job Obama Won’t: Sanction Iran.” There they write:
Because of these moral, reputational and prudential reasons, on Monday we are sending and endorsing a letter and a draft sanctions document to all 50 states, calling on the 25 states with existing sanctions to strictly and aggressively enforce those sanctions to take every executive and legislative action available to immediately impose sanctions on Iran. The Obama administration may call this “interference.” We call it the right thing to do.
This article is nothing short of a battle cry to governors, state legislators, mayors and city council members across the country to do everything in their power to sabotage the historic Nuclear Deal with Iran. While the Obama administration as part of the nuclear deal agreed to “actively encourage” states to end their sanctions on Iran, Oklahoma AG Scott Pruitt and Michigan AG Bill Schuette have sent the letter that was promised in the Wall Street Journal. Only time will tell if States have the power to truly damage this deal.
When considering what the future holds for the favorite Republican tactic of sanctions, it’s important to note that should Obama be forced to use his pen to veto a resolution of disapproval, it would send a terrible signal to our allies and Iran and increase their concerns as to whether future administrations and Congresses will stand by the agreement. Furthermore, all of these efforts will undoubtedly be bolstered by sensationalist media narratives championed by Breitbart and the Weekly Standard, exploding at every suggestion, verifiable or not, that Iran may have done something wrong or may have in some way violated the agreement. Further down the road, the incendiary rhetoric of Republican presidential candidates could conceivably evolve into a detrimental foreign policy towards Iran, as candidates commit to nullify the agreement and put us on the path to war.
As Congressional support for the Iran Nuclear Deal continues to grow, we must remain vigilant. Preventing a veto-override is a critical step. Blocking a vote of disapproval is a critical step. But what’s truly important is that this deal lasts, and that means the people who have rallied behind it have to continue defending it. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” Today, we celebrate the victory of preventing a veto-override. Then we must go right back to work.