The Republican-controlled Senate is pushing aside amendments offered by two of its most conservative members in order to clear the way for likely approval of a bill that would give Congress the power to review a nuclear agreement with Iran.
For the past week, the Senate has fought over 67 amendments to the proposed bill, all of them introduced by Republicans. When the Senate votes on a leadership proposal to cut off debate , likely on Thursday, it would lock out votes on the amendments and mark a clear defeat for two freshmen senators, Marco Rubio of Florida and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, whose proposals have attracted the most controversy.
Rubio, a presidential candidate for 2016, wanted any deal to be contingent on Iran recognizing the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. Cotton wanted a vote on an amendment that would have required Iran to allow inspectors access to any suspicious nuclear sites.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky requested the vote to end the filibuster. It’s likely to win easy approval, setting the stage for a final vote on the overall bill, though it’s still unknown exactly when that might happen.
McConnell and allies feared the amendments, if passed, would upset a bipartisan deal that also included an initially reluctant White House and draw a veto from President Barack Obama.
Cotton rushed by reporters with a quick “no comment” after having lunch with other Republican senators at the Capitol on Tuesday, but both he and Rubio took to Twitter to talk up their continued opposition to the bill.
“We will not accept a deal that allows a nuclear Iran!” Rubio tweeted Wednesday. Cotton tweeted that Democratic “intransigence” had blocked the Senate from strengthening the bill.
In a speech Wednesday, McConnell said the bill, called the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, offers Congress the best chance to weigh in on any deal negotiated by the Obama administration.
“Many wish the bill was stronger – I don’t disagree with them,” McConnell said. “But this is a piece of legislation worthy of our support.”
When Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada blamed the Republicans for offering “poison pills” aimed at killing the bill, Cotton shot back, calling the amendments “vitamin pills” aimed at improving the legislation.
Reid called the bill historic and “a delicate compromise” that should not be altered. He said every GOP amendment was an attempt “to denigrate and hurt and destroy” the bill.
“We’re not going to do that,” Reid said.
Many Republicans were prepared to vote against the amendments, including Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who worried that they might hinder the Senate from reaching “the finish line.”
“If they fracture the bill, I’d vote against them because I am for getting an outcome,” he said.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the moves by Rubio and Cotton last week ended discussions with Democrats on how to vote on amendments in an orderly way.
But he declined to criticize either of his colleagues, saying only that “people understand certainly what’s occurred over the course of the last week.” He predicted the bill would now pass with an overwhelming vote.
The bill would give Congress the power of review over the nuclear agreement with Iran. It would allow members to approve any deal before congressional sanctions could be removed. McConnell said Congress also would have greater authority to quickly impose sanctions if Iran did not follow the agreement.
While Republicans would like Democrats to agree to a final vote on Thursday, Reid predicted that passage won’t come until next week. But he said a majority of Democrats were eager to pass the bill. He said Democrats hadn’t offered a single amendment as they watched Republicans come forward with their list of 67.
“If they could, they would offer more,” said Reid.
As McConnell held private meetings with Rubio and Cotton and others to figure out how to break the impasse, some Democrats questioned why a bill that cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on a bipartisan 19-0 vote last month had caused so much trouble for Republicans in the full Senate.
“They are the ones who wanted this legislation, and they are the ones who seem to be holding it up,” said Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state.
And Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said that it has been his party that has worked the hardest to preserve the bill, saving it “from the onslaught of poison pills” offered by Republicans.
“We’ve saving the bill from the Republicans themselves, which is ironic but important to do,” he said.