Iran and the Art of the Possible

Unable to force Obama’s hand, the Senate votes to corral him.

My good friend Andy McCarthy argued recently that the bi-partisan Iran Review Act, sponsored Senators Bob Corker (R, TN) and Bob Menendez (D, NJ), was “worse than nothing,” because it did not force the President to submit an eventual agreement his administration will negotiate with Iran to the Senate as a treaty.

Andy’s constitutional argument is sound and it is powerful: he argues that the Corker bill undermines the Treaty clause of the U.S. Constitution, which “puts the onus on Obama to find 67 votes to approve his deal.” Instead, “the Corker bill puts the onus on opponents to find 67 votes to disapprove the deal."

He blames the failure to force Obama’s hand into submitting the deal as a Treaty on “feckless leadership in the Republican Congress.”

On Wednesday, Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin tried to do just what Andy was advocating. His amendment would have required the President to submit the nuclear deal to the Senate as a Treaty, thus triggering the “advice and consent clause” and a 2/3 majority vote for it to go into effect.

Even if all 54 Senate Republicans had voted for the Johnson amendment, and the House adopted a similar measure and sent the bill to the President, everyone in Washington knows exactly what would happen: Obama would veto it. That would leave Congress with few tools to oppose the President’s actions other than the power of the purse, one Republicans have been leery of using.

As it turned out, only 39 Republicans voted for the Johnson amendment, leaving Corker’s original bill unchanged.

Now, is that a lamentable result? Yes. But faced with a lawless president, determined to strike a deal with Iran no matter the cost, Corker and Menendez chose to treat politics as the art of the possible and crafted a compromise that now has 67 co-sponsors: a veto-proof majority.

That means that Obama must now submit the full text of the agreement, and much more, to the Senate.

Here’s what the Corker bill as it now stands will do, according to Senator Corker’s own summary:

Within five days of concluding a comprehensive agreement with Iran, the president must submit to Congress (1) the text of the agreement and all related materials, (2) a verification assessment on Iranian compliance, and (3) a certification that the agreement meets U.S. non-proliferation objectives and does not jeopardize U.S. national security, including not allowing Iran to pursue nuclear-related military activities.

Corker on Thursday introduced an amendment to his own bill that would require the President also to submit the Persian text of the agreement, given “the discrepancies between the American fact sheet and the Iranian fact sheet” when the framework agreement was announced on April 3.

“In order for Congress to evaluate any agreement thoroughly and adequately, we have to see what both sides believe the agreement is, and that requires the Persian text of a deal,” Corker said.

The bill also prohibits the President from lifting, suspending, or otherwise easing Congressionally-mandated sanctions for up to 52 days pending Congressional review and a potential veto-override vote.

The bill requires the administration to provide a number of reports, including a verification assessment to determine if the agreement as written is in fact enforceable and verifiable.

Beyond this, the bill introduces a strong suite of Congressional oversight requirements (Section d) that offer as many opportunities for the Congress to express its disapproval, and thus, to reimpose sanctions at any time that Iran does not live up to its commitments.

Now, as Andy McCarthy objects, all that is fine and good, but what if Obama simply ignores Congress, as he has shown he is willing to do?

I come back to my original point: politics is the art of the possible.

While there are no guarantees that Congress will act should the President violate the terms of the Iran Review act, any legislation that passes with a veto-proof majority (and I expect this one will pass 99-0 when it finally passes the floor) provides Congress with tremendous leverage.

Is that an iron-clad guarantee that the President will respect Congress, or that Iran will respect the agreement it signs? Obviously not.

But in this imperfect world, it’s about as good as it gets.

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