President Obama used his State of the Union address Tuesday to threaten a veto of any congressional plan to slap Iran with new sanctions, and he just might have gotten his way.
The top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee thinks Obama is "naive" to believe the U.S. is having any "great success" in persuading Iran to curb parts of its nuclear program — but he is not optimistic there's enough momentum in the Senate, all told, to ram through new sanctions against the wishes of the president.
"[Obama] said last night he would veto any [new sanctions]," Sen. Jim Inhofe said in an interview. "The question is, is there support to override a veto on that? I say, 'No.' "
The Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act, authored by two senators, Illinois Republican Mark Kirk and New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez, has 59 cosponsors, and includes measures to punish Iran's oil industry if it breaches diplomatic commitments. Inhofe does not believe a vote now would result in the majority necessary to override a presidential veto, because enough Democrats would still side with their president.
Even some of the Senate bill's Democratic cosponsors, including Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Christopher Coons of Delaware, have also backed away from the sanctions bill since Obama's speech, The Hill reported.
In his address Tuesday night, Obama defended the interim deal, which he said "has halted the progress of Iran's nuclear program--and rolled parts of that program back--for the very first time in a decade." Iran has started eliminating its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium, Obama said, and is no longer installing advanced centrifuges. If diplomacy fails, then all options--presumably even military force--remain on the table, Obama promised. "I will be the first to call for more sanctions, and stand ready to exercise all options to make sure Iran does not build a nuclear weapon."
Inhofe, though, isn't buying it. New Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is not to be trusted; inspections won't be enough, he said. "They," Inhofe said, referring to the Obama administration, "seem to think, for some reason, that this new president is a president they can talk to, and negotiate with"¦. This guy, I don't think we can trust him more than anybody else, [even former President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad."
Even though the momentum may be slipping, Inhofe said, Democrats loyal to Obama are quickly becoming "endangered species." So if talks between world powers and Iran fall apart, or new revelations emerge that Iran is breaking its diplomatic commitments, it's possible the political winds could shift.
For now, though, Obama may be in the clear.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified Sen. Menendez's party; he is a Democrat.