Republicans signaled over the weekend they intend to waste little time in the New Year before they challenge President Obama on a range of sensitive national security and defense issues.
Likely to be first up: a measure to beef up economic sanctions against Iran if that country violates an interim nuclear agreement with the U.S. or scuttles the ongoing talks on the future of Iran’s nuclear weapons capability.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said on Saturday in Israel that the Senate would vote on a bipartisan measure next month that could greatly complicate the delicate talks by introducing the threat of additional sanctions, The Hill reported.
The administration wants a deal with Iran that would dismantle large parts of its nuclear infrastructure and delay for years its nuclear weapons capability in exchange for further relief from tough economic sanctions that have severely hampered Iran’s economy.
Standing side-by-side with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Graham said, “You will see a very vigorous Congress when it comes to Iran. You will see a Congress making sure sanctions are real and will be reimposed at the drop of a hat. You will see Congress wanting to have a say about any final deal.”
The joint appearance of Graham, a prominent congressional defense hawk, along with Netanyahu was highly symbolic of the GOP’s skepticism over Obama’s foreign policy and defense tactics and its determination to take a harder line. Graham is closely allied with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a top Obama critic who becomes chair of the Armed Services Committee next month.
Netanyahu has also been highly critical of Obama’s policy toward Iran. Little more than a year ago, he threatened unilateral military action unless Tehran abandoned its perceived drive to develop nuclear weapons that could be used against Israel.
With the Republicans taking control of both the Senate and House beginning next month, the debate over the conduct of U.S. foreign policy and defense will be front and center on Capitol Hill. GOP leaders are certain to challenge Obama on a wide range of topics – on everything from his handling of the war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq to his efforts to combat Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military aggression in Ukraine, to spending on defense and new weapons systems.
As for the nuclear talks with Iran, Senate Republicans are likely to bring up a bill that was drafted by outgoing Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL). It would threaten even tougher sanctions against Tehran if the negotiations don’t go well or dissolve.
Despite strong opposition from the administration, the bill attracted 16 Democratic co-sponsors in the past Congress and would have a very strong chance of passing if Republican Senate Majority leader-to-be Mitch McConnell (R-KY) brings it to the floor for a vote.
U.S. and Iranian negotiators missed a late November deadline for reaching a deal, but the two sides agreed to extend the negotiations for another seven months.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said last month that the administration continues to believe that adding on sanctions while negotiations continue would be “counter-productive.”
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