House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is attempting to organize a bipartisan coalition to draft a bill that would narrowly define what is, and is not, acceptable in any final nuclear deal with Iran, National Journal has learned.
Cantor, the No. 2 House Republican and the highest-ranking Jewish member of Congress, informed House Republicans of his plan at Tuesday morning's conference meeting, according to sources in the room.
"I for one am really upset with that interim deal," Cantor said, according to those who were there, adding: "We can go ahead and criticize it, but … we should be focused on what that final deal looks like."
Cantor told his GOP colleagues that he's working with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., to find lawmakers in both parties to support legislation that would "speak volumes" about congressional expectations for an agreement.
Republican aides say Cantor's effort represents the beginning of what they predict will be a bipartisan push to "put in writing" exactly what Congress expects in any final deal on Iran's nuclear program. Specifically, one senior Republican aide said, Cantor's preference is for a final deal that includes a total prohibition on enrichment.
Cantor's office confirmed his desire to pursue Iran legislation but would not elaborate on details. "The leader does not believe the interim agreement with Iran was in our nation's best interests, and he will work with fellow members, Republican and Democrat, to determine that any final deal definitively addresses congressional concerns," Cantor spokesman Rory Cooper said.
The initial Iran agreement, reached late last month, softened some economic sanctions in exchange for Iran freezing parts of its nuclear program. But that deal, designed to create six months of negotiating space to reach a broader agreement, provoked a flurry of bipartisan criticism on Capitol Hill.
The House, which already passed its new round of Iran sanctions this summer, was initially thought to have little recourse in response to the Iran deal. (It's unclear whether the Senate, under immense pressure from the White House not to approve new sanctions, will join the House in passing them.)
But negative response to the Iran deal from both parties and both chambers, Republican aides say, showed that lawmakers are eager to push back against the White House.
With another round of sanctions on hold, and Senate Democrats wary of upstaging President Obama, Cantor's push to define any final Iran agreement could become the most realistic vehicle.
This article appears in the December 4, 2013 edition of NJ Daily.