Capping a long and divisive debate, the U.S. Senate on Thursday approved a bill that would give Congress the authority to review a proposed nuclear agreement with Iran.
The bill won on a vote of 98 to 1, even getting support from Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who still said he was "deeply disappointed by the direction this has taken."
Rubio could not convince his colleagues to vote on an amendment that would have required Iran to recognize Israel’s right to exist. But he said he respected the decision made by Senate leaders to move on to other issues.
"Apparently there are senators terrified of voting against that amendment, so they’d rather not have a vote at all," said Rubio, a 2016 GOP presidential candidate.
The Senate approved the bill after first voting 93 to 6 to end a filibuster. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky moved to cut off the debate on Tuesday after Republicans filed 67 amendments to the bill and a feud broke out among GOP senators. Democrats did not file any amendments
The bill would give Congress the power of review and allow members to approve any deal before congressional sanctions could be removed. It must still be approved by the House before it goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.
The vote marked a victory for Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who called it “a big achievement” for the Senate. The bill first cleared his panel on a vote of 19-0 last month.
Corker and Maryland Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin, the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, expressed satisfaction at getting the bill passed by such an overwhelming margin, particularly after all the controversy it generated.
“I would say earlier this week that very few of you thought we would get a 98 to 1 vote. ... But we did,” Cardin told reporters at a news conference at the Capitol following the vote.
Backers of the bill feared that any major changes would prompt a veto by Obama.
Democrats objected most to Rubio’s amendment and another by GOP Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who wanted to require Iran to allow inspectors access to any suspicious nuclear sites.
Cotton cast the only vote of opposition to the bill. He released a statement after the vote, promising to work with Republicans and Democrats “to stop a dangerous deal that would put Iran on the path to obtaining a nuclear weapon."
In a speech on the Senate floor, Rubio said he feared that Israel would be jeopardized if economic sanctions were lifted against Iran.
“They’re going to use that money to sponsor terrorism and the prime target of that terrorism is the state of Israel,” Rubio said.
He said he also fears that a nuclear arms race could be the end result.
“If Iran builds a weapon, we will build a weapon,” Rubio said. “And so it creates the very real specter that we’re going to have an arms race, a nuclear arms race, in the Middle East. You’re talking about a region of the world that has been unstable for 3,800 years.”
Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said the bill is an attempt to hold the president accountable and to prevent “a bad agreement” as a deal is negotiated with Iran.
And he predicted it will pass the House.