As the odds improve that President Obama will prevail in getting the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal past a recalcitrant Congress next month, GOP leaders already have begun concocting a face-saving plan B to take a parting shot at the controversial nuclear non-proliferation agreement.
On Wednesday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker (R-TN) reportedly told a Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce event that based on his latest headcount of Democratic votes, Congress isn’t in a position to block implementation of the agreement with Iran.
"My guess is this agreement is going to happen," Corker said, according to The Nashville Tennessean. "At the end of the day, I don't think there's going to be likely a veto-proof number of people to keep it from occurring."
Weeks of doubt about the fate of the agreement have given way to a sense of certainty that the Republican controlled Congress won’t be able to block implementation. The final agreement forged in Vienna in mid-July by the U.S., Iran and five other major powers would curtail Iran’s capability to develop a nuclear weapon for the next 15 years while lifting economic and oil sanctions against Tehran.
With 29 Senate Democrats publicly announcing in favor of the nuclear deal and just five more needed to sustain the president’s veto, the White House appeared buoyant but not overly confident on Wednesday. “So, there are several indications that we are succeeding in our efforts to build sufficient support for the agreement in Congress, but we certainly want to collect as many votes as possible,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters.
Obama, fresh from his vacation, tried to keep the heat up with appearances on TV stations in Detroit, Philadelphia, Seattle and the Washington, D.C. area. His appeals for approval of the Iran deal were clearly aimed at undecided Democratic senators, including Gary Peters of Michigan, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Corey Booker of New Jersey, Christopher Coons of Delaware, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Mark Warner of Virginia and Benjamin Cardin of Maryland.
The turning point came last weekend, when Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) warmly embraced the Iran deal as good for both the U.S. and Israel. He suggested that if the trend continues, the Democrats might not only be able to sustain a veto but actually prevent the Republicans from even bringing up a resolution of disapproval in the face of a Democratic filibuster.
“As far as procedurally stopping this bill from moving forward, I am not giving up hope on that,” Reid said, according to Roll Call. “I know it’s a longshot, but I hope that it can be done. We’ll just have to see because right now … we still have a lot of uncounted votes.”
Reid, who will retire from the Senate at the end of next year, typically has plenty of tricks up his sleeve. And it’s possible he could muster the 41 Democratic votes that would be required prevent cloture and block a final vote on the resolution.
But Corker and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have tricks of their own they might use as a fallback in the event Obama thwarts the GOP assault on the nuclear deal.
One would be the “poison pill” approach, in which McConnell would open the resolution to a series of politically flammable amendments that would put wavering Democrats on the spot and enable the Republicans to score political points, even if they don’t prevail.
A few of those amendments were offered earlier this year by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Tom Cotton (R-ARK) and other conservatives, and include making adoption of the nuclear deal contingent on Iran recognizing the state of Israel and the release of three American hostages.
Another approach that Corker is promoting is for the Senate to come back later with some very strong legislative provisions that would keep the economic pressure on Iran and come down hard if Iranian leaders later violate the terms of the agreement. The idea would be to somehow keep Iran boxed in with the threat of a renewed array of economic sanctions.
“I think what Congress will do is come back around with some very, very strong provisions relative to Iran, but also probably some very strong provisions relative to some regional … strategy that is very supportive of allies that we have in the region,” Corker said in Tennessee yesterday.