Robert Menendez Seeks Distance From GOP on Iran Sanctions

But the Foreign Relations chairman remains deeply skeptical of Iran.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) (L) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) (R) leave after a briefing on a Securities and Exchange Commission proposed rule October 30, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Jordain Carney
Feb. 6, 2014, 1 p.m.

Sen. Robert Men­en­dez fired back at a Re­pub­lic­an let­ter that pressed for a vote on his Ir­an sanc­tions le­gis­la­tion.

Un­der Men­en­dez’s bill, ad­di­tion­al sanc­tions would be levied against Ir­an if it walks away from the in­ter­im agree­ment over its nuc­le­ar pro­gram, or talks over a long-term deal. Ir­a­ni­an of­fi­cials have said such le­gis­la­tion, or any sanc­tions le­gis­la­tion, would kill dip­lo­mat­ic pro­gress.

“I have long thought of this as a bi­par­tis­an na­tion­al se­cur­ity is­sue — not a par­tis­an polit­ic­al is­sue,” the New Jer­sey Demo­crat said. “And — at the end of the day — a na­tion­al se­cur­ity is­sue that we must ap­proach in a spir­it of bi­par­tis­an­ship and unity, which has been the spir­it for which we have worked to­geth­er on this mat­ter. And I hope that we will not find ourselves in a par­tis­an pro­cess try­ing to force a vote on a na­tion­al se­cur­ity mat­ter be­fore its ap­pro­pri­ate time.”

Forty-two Re­pub­lic­ans sent a let­ter to Sen. Harry Re­id on Tues­day call­ing for a vote dur­ing the cur­rent work peri­od on Men­en­dez’s pro­pos­al. That would re­quire a vote on the bill next week, with the Sen­ate ex­pec­ted to start its next state-work peri­od on Feb. 17.

In the let­ter, up­loaded by The Daily Beast‘s Josh Ro­gin, Re­pub­lic­ans say it is the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion that is turn­ing a his­tor­ic­ally bi­par­tis­an is­sue in­to a par­tis­an one, and hits at Re­id for tak­ing “un­pre­ced­en­ted steps to take away the rights of the minor­ity in the Sen­ate.”

Re­pub­lic­ans have con­tin­ued to speak out against Re­id’s de­cision to “go nuc­le­ar” last year, and the two sides have fre­quently got­ten bogged down in fights over amend­ments to le­gis­la­tion.

The sanc­tions bill has 58 co­spon­sors, 15 of whom are Demo­crats and 43 are Re­pub­lic­an. Of the 15 Demo­crat­ic cosponors, two signed on after Dec. 19 — the day the bill was in­tro­duced.

Un­der the in­ter­im agree­ment reached by six coun­tries with Ir­an in Novem­ber, the coun­try curbs its nuc­le­ar pro­gram in ex­change for lim­ited sanc­tions re­lief.

Men­en­dez said he re­mains deeply con­cerned about Ir­an, not­ing that of­fi­cials “say one thing be­hind closed doors in Geneva, and say an­oth­er thing pub­lic­ally.”

And he called the one-year sanc­tions delay in­cluded in his pro­pos­al “sig­ni­fic­ant and gen­er­ous giv­en Ir­an’s his­tory of treach­ery and de­ceit.”

But wheth­er or not sanc­tions le­gis­la­tion will come up for a vote in the Sen­ate rests with one per­son — Re­id, who has fre­quently avoided be­ing pinned down on if, and when, he would bring such a pro­pos­al to the floor.

The Nevada Demo­crat said last month that he would “wait and see” about le­gis­la­tion.

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