Sen. Bob Corker Rails Against the Iran Deal

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee laid into John Kerry at Thursday’s Senate hearing.

Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Corker listens as Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee May 20, 2015 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Lauren Fox
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Lauren Fox
July 23, 2015, 7:02 a.m.

Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee Chair­man Bob Cork­er doesn’t trust Ir­an. Now he is mak­ing it clear that he does not trust the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ne­go­ti­ations with Ir­an either.

Cork­er, who vig­or­ously fought to en­sure Con­gress had a chance to weigh in on the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s nuc­le­ar deal, now ap­pears to be lean­ing strongly against the deal.

The more he hears about it, the more “dis­ap­poin­ted” he is, he said Thursday. Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry has made it clear that Con­gress has two choices: this deal or a nuc­le­ar arms race. Cork­er isn’t buy­ing it.

“I be­lieve that to be hy­per­bole,” Cork­er said in his open­ing state­ment.

“What I think you have ac­tu­ally done in these ne­go­ti­ations is co­di­fied a per­fectly aligned path­way for Ir­an to get a nuc­le­ar weapon just by abid­ing by this agree­ment,” Cork­er said. “In the pro­cess of be­ing fleeced, you have turned Ir­an from be­ing a pari­ah to now Con­gress be­ing a pari­ah.”

Re­pub­lic­an Sen. James Risch of Idaho told Obama of­fi­cials in his open­ing re­marks that, “with all due re­spect, you guys have been bam­boozled and the Amer­ic­an people are go­ing to pay for that.”

Ahead of the first pub­lic hear­ing since the his­tor­ic nuc­le­ar deal was reached, Re­pub­lic­an and Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors re­mained in­tensely skep­tic­al about the deal, but Cork­er’s ap­par­ent dis­sat­is­fac­tion marked a turn­ing point on the For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, which has largely re­mained united thus far on en­sur­ing Con­gress got a vote on the deal.

For Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial con­tenders, the Ir­an hear­ing presen­ted a unique op­por­tun­ity to dis­tin­guish them­selves from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s for­eign policy.

Sen. Marco Ru­bio threatened that “the deal could go away on the day Obama leaves of­fice,” a pre­view of a cam­paign prom­ise voters can ex­pect from the ju­ni­or sen­at­or.

“Even if this deal nar­rowly avoids con­gres­sion­al de­feat be­cause we can’t get to that veto-proof ma­jor­ity, the Ir­a­ni­an re­gime and the world should know that this deal is your deal with Ir­an, mean­ing yours and this ad­min­is­tra­tion’s, and the next pres­id­ent is un­der no leg­al or mor­al ob­lig­a­tion to live up to it,” Ru­bio said.

Kerry shot back that he hoped the next pres­id­ent would be more sens­ible than to ar­bit­rar­ily de­cide to roll back a his­tor­ic deal.

Sen. Rand Paul, an­oth­er 2016 can­did­ate, had a less con­ten­tious mes­sage. Paul ap­plauded Kerry for ne­go­ti­at­ing, but ques­tioned wheth­er the deal was en­force­able. He also had con­cerns that eco­nom­ic sanc­tions would be rolled back in bulk in­stead of in­cre­ment­ally.

Opt­ing not to de­cry the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion as Ru­bio did, Paul did not even use up all his time.

But Re­pub­lic­ans were not the only ones grilling ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials.

Demo­crat­ic Sen. Robert Men­en­dez, who has been one of the biggest crit­ics of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ne­go­ti­ations with Ir­an, said that the Ir­an deal “fails to ap­pre­ci­ate Ir­an’s his­tory of de­cep­tion in its nuc­le­ar pro­gram.”

Kerry and Men­en­dez en­gaged in a con­ten­tious sev­en-minute ex­change, com­plete with the sen­at­or and sec­ret­ary in­ter­rupt­ing one an­oth­er on sev­er­al oc­ca­sions.

“Don’t eat up my time,” Men­en­dez chided.

The New Jer­sey sen­at­or wanted to know wheth­er law­makers would be cap­able of reau­thor­iz­ing eco­nom­ic sanc­tions that ex­pire in 2016 if Ir­an failed to hold up its end of the bar­gain.

“If you are go­ing to ‘snap back,’ you have to snap back to something,” Men­en­dez said.

Most Demo­crats, however, ap­peared will­ing to get be­hind the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s deal, an im­port­ant mark­er. While the ad­min­is­tra­tion would like to have bi­par­tis­an sup­port, the pres­id­ent only needs to en­sure he holds on to mem­bers of his own party.

Demo­crat­ic rank­ing mem­ber Ben Cardin said that it was time to listen, not make snap judg­ments.

“I have not reached a con­clu­sion and I would hope all the mem­bers of Con­gress would get all the in­form­a­tion,” Cardin said. “This is a very im­port­ant agree­ment from the point of view of U.S. for­eign policy.”

Kerry’s mes­sage to Con­gress re­mains that Ir­an already has the po­ten­tial to move to­ward a nuc­le­ar weapon.

“The choice we face is between an agree­ment that will en­sure Ir­an’s nuc­le­ar agree­ment is lim­ited, rig­or­ously scru­tin­ized, and fully peace­ful or no deal at all. That is the choice,” Kerry said.

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