President Barack Obama effectively secured the most significant foreign policy achievement of his two terms in office on Thursday when Senate opponents failed to derail the Iran nuclear deal.
A 58-42 procedural vote fell two short of the 60 needed to curb debate on a measure that sought to kill by the deal by barring the United States from lifting nuclear-related sanctions on Iran. Four Democrats joined 54 Republicans in the attempt to shut off debate.
“This vote is a victory for diplomacy, for American national security, and for the safety and security of the world,” Obama declared in a statement issued minutes after the vote. “I am heartened that so many senators judged this deal on the merits, and am gratified by the strong support of lawmakers and citizens alike.”
Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., vowed to persevere with efforts to derail the deal, announcing that he would schedule another attempt to curb debate on the resolution of disapproval next week and move it to a final vote, although he’s not likely to succeed.
“Democratic senators just voted to filibuster and block the American people from even having a real vote on one of the most consequential foreign policy issues of our age,” McConnell asserted after Thursday’s vote. “This deal is sure to have many consequences that will last well beyond this administration, and yet, as things presently stand, it would limp along with little or no buy-in or input from Congress or the people.
McConnell’s maneuvering and similar efforts in the House to derail the deal, including a possible lawsuit by hardline conservatives, have virtually no chance of succeeding, but the continued opposition appeared designed to keep the deal a high-visibility issue during the presidential election campaign. All 17 Republican candidates oppose the accord, while the leading Democratic hopefuls, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, support it.
Efforts by opponents to derail this agreement were soundly rejected.
Sen. Harry Reid
Reached on July 14 after some two years of talks between Iran, on one side, and the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, on the other, the deal is intended to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons. It would impose strict limits on Iran’s capacity to produce enriched uranium and plutonium and subject Iranian nuclear facilities to unprecedented international inspections. In return, Iran will be relieved of economic sanctions that have devastated its economy.
The failure to muster enough votes to block the deal in the Senate came in spite of an intense multi-million-dollar lobbying campaign against the deal.
Opponents, led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in unprecedented interference by a foreign leader in a U.S. political dispute, charge that the deal is seriously flawed. They contend that it will allow Iran to secretly develop a nuclear arsenal that it will use to target Israel and expand its regional power. The lifting of sanctions, they add, will bring Tehran a financial windfall that it will use to fund violent proxies in in the war-wracked Middle East.
Under a compromise agreement with the White House, Congress was given 60 days after submission of the deal to review it. That period ends Sept. 17.
But under the compromise, Congress was not asked to approve the deal, only to disapprove it, an action that Obama could veto to keep the Iran deal alive. Congressional opponents would then have had to muster a two-thirds vote in both the Senate and the House of Representatives to overturn the veto.
As it turned out, the veto almost certainly won’t be needed. While majorities in the Republican-controlled Senate and the House of Representatives supported the measure, McConnell needed 60 members to support limiting debate so the measure itself could be voted on.
The failure to muster those votes came in spite of an intense multi-million-dollar lobbying campaign against the deal.
After the vote, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he was “gratified” by the outcome. He warned Republicans against continuing their efforts to scuttle the nuclear agreement.
“Efforts by opponents to derail this agreement were soundly rejected,” Reid said. “Any future attempts . . . by Senator McConnell to re-litigate this issue are just simply a waste of time and will meet the same outcome as this.”
As Senate Republicans tried to move their disapproval resolution forward, the House pursued a separate path, where a resolution passed by a party-line vote of 245-186 declared that the 60-day congressional review period hadn’t started because Obama hasn’t provided lawmakers with all documents relating to the deal.
Opponents have been demanding that Congress be given two so-called side agreements between Iran and the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, outlining how they will clear up allegations that Tehran researched a nuclear warhead until late 2003.
This vote is a victory for diplomacy, for American national security, and for the safety and security of the world.
While the administration contends that it knows the details of the side agreements, it says that it cannot obtain them because the IAEA keeps such bilateral arrangements confidential in order to preserve agency’s independence and integrity.
Some conservatives have floated the idea of trying to stop the deal through a lawsuit that would charge that because the side deals weren’t provided, Obama had violated the law that established the 60-day review.
House Republicans also are expected to hold a vote on Friday – the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks – on a measure to approve the deal, knowing that they will easily defeat it.
They also were scheduled to vote on a bill that, similar to the Senate proposal, that would restrict Obama’s ability to lift U.S. sanctions on Iran.