Democratic senators supporting President Obama’s disastrous nuclear deal with Iran are cowards. They know that a majority of Americans oppose the deal. Thus, they are running for cover to avoid going on the record and voting against a resolution disapproving the deal. A filibuster to block a vote on the merits altogether is the Democratic Senate caucus’s preferred way out.
The White House is reportedly pushing the filibuster strategy even though Obama is virtually certain to have enough votes to sustain a veto of a resolution of disapproval passed by both houses of Congress. Two-thirds votes are required in both the House of Representatives and the Senate to override an Obama veto. But if Obama can get out of using his veto pen and expending political capital to sustain it, he is all too happy to hide behind the filibuster fig leaf.
So far only two Democratic senators have declared their opposition to the deal – New York’s senior senator, Chuck Schumer, and New Jersey’s senior senator, Robert Menendez. Assuming they both would vote with the Republican majority to end a filibuster, four additional votes would be needed to reach the magic closure number of 60 and allow the resolution to proceed to a floor vote. Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is doing what he can to corral enough support among his fellow Democrats to prevent the closure number from being reached.
Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told the Associated Press he found it “stunning” that Reid is proposing to block a vote on a resolution of disapproval. "All but one senator voted in favor of having the right to vote on the final deal, so then to turn right around and filibuster it to me is very inconsistent and I think would be confusing to the people they represent," Senator Corker said.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) was even more direct, declaring that Reid “wants to deny the American people a voice entirely by blocking an up-or-down vote on this terrible deal.”
A majority of Americans oppose the nuclear deal. Democrats could face a political price if they do not even allow a vote that reflects the majority sentiment. But blind partisan loyalty to Obama trumps their responsibility to the American people. Their excuse, as explained by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), is an insult to American national sovereignty:
“There’s a cost to the international credibility of the country and this president if a motion of disapproval passes the House and the Senate. There is some harm to the country’s standing if we have to go through the charade of the veto.”
The “charade” in play here occurred when the Senate forfeited its constitutional prerogative in the first place to “advise and consent” to treaties by a two-thirds vote of senators present. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“JCPA”), the formal name of the nuclear deal with Iran, deserved to be handled as a treaty that affirmatively requires Senate approval. Instead, in the face of the Obama administration’s threat to treat the JCPA solely as an executive agreement and exclude Congress altogether from playing any role in reviewing the JCPA before it went into effect, the leaders in both houses buckled under. They ended up taking whatever scraps of participation in the process that the Obama administration was willing to offer them.
The Republican majority thereby set a terrible precedent when it agreed to an upside-down procedure under which President Obama will get his way unless both houses of Congress override his veto of a disapproval resolution by a two-thirds vote. Now they are playing defense against the stratagems of Democratic Minority Leader Reid, who plans to take no prisoners. Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hamid Baidi-nejad, presumably speaking for his government, is rooting for Reid to succeed with his filibuster ploy, according to a report last weekend in the Tehran Times.
The response of the Republican Senate majority to the filibuster threat is muddled. When asked whether the majority could beat back a filibuster maneuver, Senator Corker lamented, "I don't know, I don't know."
There is a defeatist attitude emerging amongst opponents of the deal, although some Republicans are looking to the next election to exact a political price from those Democratic senators running in 2016 who side with Reid and Obama. In particular, Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), still reportedly undecided, may be in the crosshairs as a vulnerable incumbent if he ends up supporting Reid and Obama. “If Sen. Michael Bennet filibusters or votes for the Iran deal we will make sure voters know he supported a nuclear deal that threatens our national security,” Andrea Bozek, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in a statement.
Waiting until the 2016 elections, however, is too little, too late, at least as far as the filibuster threat is concerned. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell must not only denounce the filibuster ploy, but push through a change in Senate rules to prohibit a filibuster that would prevent an up-or-down vote on something as momentous to national security as the nuclear deal with Iran.
McConnell would not have to look very far for a precedent. Harry Reid provided it back in 2013 when he maneuvered a party line vote to ban the use of filibusters to block votes on presidential nominations.
"A simple majority vote no longer seems to be sufficient for anything, even routine business, in what is supposed to be the world's foremost deliberative body," Obama said at the time in supporting Reid’s tactic. "Today's pattern of obstruction, it just isn't' normal, it's not what our founders envisioned."
In truth, our founders did not envision a situation in which a minority of senators can prevent the Senate from even exercising the crumb left on the table after the majority ceded away the Senate’s constitutional treaty “advice and consent” powers.
Senator McConnell responded to Reid’s initiative against the use of filibusters in connection with nominations this way: "Some of us have been here long enough to know the shoe is sometimes on the other foot. You'll regret this, and you may regret it a lot sooner than you think."
The shoe now is on the other foot. The time has come for Senator McConnell and the Senate Republican majority to put their collective foot down and force the Democrats to vote up or down on the resolution to disapprove Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. They must act immediately to take away the Democrats’ filibuster fig leaf. Each of those Obama loyalists who support the deal should be required to go on the record and be accountable to their constituents for their decision. Even if not playing the full advice and consent role that the founding fathers contemplated with regards to treaties, the Senate will at least have had its say. And the next president can act accordingly to void the deal and punish Iran, including (unlike Obama) supporting congressional initiatives for even harsher sanctions and possible military action, if Iran is found to have violated a single commitment. The large majority of Americans who oppose Obama’s deal deserve nothing less.