Democrats Block Iran-Deal Vote Again, but GOP Promises Another Round

The Senate still doesn’t have 60 “ayes” to advance a measure disapproving of the nuclear agreement. Now McConnell wants to make the next vote tougher.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell leaves the Senate chamber on Sept. 8 after speaking out against President Obama's nuclear deal with Iran.
Anadolu Agency AFP/Getty
Sarah Mimms
Add to Briefcase
Sarah Mimms
Sept. 15, 2015, 7:16 p.m.

If at first you don’t suc­ceed in block­ing a key White House pri­or­ity—or at least em­bar­rass­ing Demo­crats—try, try again.

So ap­pears to be the Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­an man­tra this week, as lead­ers once again brought up a res­ol­u­tion to sig­nal form­al dis­ap­prov­al of the pres­id­ent’s agree­ment with Ir­an to dis­able its nuc­le­ar pro­gram. After fail­ing to pass a key 60-vote pro­ced­ur­al hurdle last week, the res­ol­u­tion again failed Tues­day night.

Yet a third vote is ex­pec­ted be­fore Thursday’s dead­line for Con­gress to act on the deal, but Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell prom­ised to add an amend­ment that could be a bit­ter pill for Demo­crats.

“If clo­ture is not in­voked,” Mc­Con­nell said be­fore the failed clo­ture vote Tues­day night, “I will file on an amend­ment that would pre­vent the pres­id­ent from lift­ing sanc­tions un­til Ir­an meets two simple bench­marks: It must form­ally re­cog­nize Is­rael’s right to ex­ist, and it must re­lease the Amer­ic­an cit­izens be­ing held in Ir­a­ni­an cus­tody.”

With a simple ma­jor­ity of sup­port, Mc­Con­nell could force a vote on the amend­ment as soon as Thursday, though 60 votes will be needed to pass it.

That puts Demo­crat­ic sup­port­ers of the Ir­an deal in a tough po­s­i­tion. One can already see the cam­paign ads in 2016 and bey­ond, warn­ing that vari­ous Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors voted against re­leas­ing Amer­ic­an host­ages in Ir­an and/or against Is­rael’s right to ex­ist. Demo­crats are furi­ous at what they cast as a purely polit­ic­al move by Mc­Con­nell now that it is clear that he has lost the Ir­an fight.

“The Re­pub­lic­an lead­er has threatened us: ‘Look, we lost and we’re go­ing to make you suf­fer,’” Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id said on the floor Tues­day night.

Mc­Con­nell’s amend­ment prom­ise is part of a strategy to force Demo­crats to own their sup­port of the Ir­an deal, which he out­lined in a press con­fer­ence last week. “Every single one of [the Demo­crats] is go­ing to want to try to trivi­al­ize this vote, try to con­vince their con­stitu­ents that they still are really tough on Ir­an,” Mc­Con­nell said, telling re­port­ers to ex­pect Demo­crats to put out press re­leases, give speeches, and even in­tro­duce le­gis­la­tion at­tack­ing Ir­an to soften their po­s­i­tion after vot­ing to keep the deal.

“We’ll not be turn­ing the Sen­ate floor in­to an op­por­tun­ity for sort of thera­peut­ic get-well ex­er­cises on be­half of all the Demo­crats who ended up vot­ing for this bill, who are go­ing to want to try to de­ceive their con­stitu­ents in­to think­ing that it really wasn’t that im­port­ant,” he said last week.

Mc­Con­nell said at the time that he would take up any “bill that le­git­im­ately goes after the Ir­a­ni­an re­gime” but would not al­low it to hit the Sen­ate floor un­til “it has enough co­spon­sors to over­ride a pres­id­en­tial veto.” That doesn’t seem to be the case with Mc­Con­nell’s amend­ment.

The end­ing of this story is clear: Sup­port­ers of the Ir­an deal have not only suf­fi­cient sup­port to pre­vent a fi­nal vote on the Ir­an dis­ap­prov­al res­ol­u­tion, but also plenty of votes to up­hold a cer­tain pres­id­en­tial veto on the deal it­self. Des­pite dis­ap­prov­al from a ma­jor­ity of mem­bers of Con­gress in both cham­bers, in­clud­ing Re­pub­lic­ans and some Demo­crats, Con­gress will ta­citly ap­prove of Obama’s deal with Ir­an.

The is­sue could ig­nite both parties’ bases, as Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans cast the oth­er party as polit­ic­ally mo­tiv­ated on a for­eign policy is­sue that is of ma­jor im­port to voters, the pres­id­ent’s leg­acy, and the na­tion’s fu­ture in gen­er­al. But the scene also high­lights Con­gress’ con­tin­ued tend­ency to get bogged down in polit­ic­al and pro­ced­ur­al fights that have turned off a ma­jor­ity of the Amer­ic­an pub­lic.

Both parties cast the vote as polit­ic­al, ar­guing that mem­bers on the oth­er side of the aisle are tak­ing a ser­i­ous is­sue too lightly.

“It’s part of a lar­ger re­treat to cam­paign­ing in­stead of en­ga­ging on this im­port­ant is­sue—ad hom­inem at­tacks in­stead of ser­i­ous de­bate, cam­paign one-liners in­stead of in­tel­lec­tu­al ar­gu­ments, and simply ig­nor­ing real­ity when it be­comes in­con­veni­ent,” Mc­Con­nell said on the Sen­ate floor Tues­day af­ter­noon.

“This de­bate should not be about a pres­id­ent who will leave of­fice in 16 months. It should be about where our coun­try will be in 16 years,” Mc­Con­nell ad­ded.

Clearly, the pres­id­ent is very much on the mind of both parties. Even if Demo­crats wave the white flag on clo­ture, the fi­nal vote count on the deal would be the same. All 100 mem­bers of the Sen­ate have already staked out their po­s­i­tions on the deal and voted as such, so a re­versal by any mem­ber at this point would be un­heard of. Ad makers already have their eyes on the Demo­crats who voted against clo­ture, all of whom pub­licly sup­port the deal. The only pur­pose of get­ting an up-or-down vote would be to force Obama to veto a dis­ap­prov­al res­ol­u­tion that has ma­jor­ity sup­port in both cham­bers.

For Re­pub­lic­ans, the con­tin­ued Demo­crat­ic fili­buster of the Ir­an dis­ap­prov­al res­ol­u­tion lays bare a minor­ity more in­ter­ested in pro­tect­ing a lame-duck pres­id­ent than le­gis­lat­ing on per­haps the most sig­ni­fic­ant for­eign policy is­sue the Sen­ate has dealt with since the Ir­aq War au­thor­iz­a­tion. Every vote against the res­ol­u­tion (which would con­sti­tute a vote in fa­vor of the deal), a pres­id­en­tial veto, and any votes up­hold­ing that veto, Re­pub­lic­ans ar­gue, all add to the Demo­crat­ic Party’s own­er­ship of the Ir­an deal—even des­pite some Demo­crat­ic votes in op­pos­i­tion.

“I think ac­count­ab­il­ity is really im­port­ant,” Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Whip John Cornyn told re­port­ers Tues­day. “I know they’re try­ing to say that it’s all over with, there’s noth­ing to see here, move on down the road, but this is the most ser­i­ous na­tion­al se­cur­ity vote we will have had at least since 2002 on the Au­thor­iz­a­tion for the Use of Mil­it­ary Force, maybe even more [ser­i­ous] since it in­volves nuc­le­ar weapons and a nuc­le­ar-arms race in the Middle East. So this is very im­port­ant. And the idea that they can just brush this un­der the rug and move on from here—I think they un­der­es­tim­ate the con­sequences of this both from a na­tion­al se­cur­ity per­spect­ive and a polit­ic­al per­spect­ive of them own­ing this whole is­sue on a par­tis­an basis.”

Demo­crats, on the oth­er hand, con­tend that the writ­ing for the Ir­an deal has long been on the wall. The deal will go through, no mat­ter how many times Re­pub­lic­ans bring it up for a vote, and every mem­ber of the Sen­ate has already had an op­por­tun­ity—twice now—to go on the re­cord either in sup­port of or in op­pos­i­tion to the deal. The Sen­ate should in­stead, they ar­gue, get to work on a con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion to fund the gov­ern­ment be­fore an­oth­er gov­ern­ment shut­down at the end of this month.

Re­id called Mc­Con­nell’s man­euv­er­ing on Tues­day to present the amend­ment a “charade,” adding: “The Re­pub­lic­ans have lost; they’ve lost this meas­ure, and they should move on to something else.”

“By the look of this week’s sched­ule, the Re­pub­lic­an lead­er doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to avoid a gov­ern­ment shut­down,” Re­id said earli­er Tues­day.

If the Sen­ate sticks with Ir­an votes this week, it will have just sev­en le­gis­lat­ive days left in the month to for­mu­late and pass a con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion while fend­ing off stalling tac­tics from con­ser­vat­ive mem­bers in­tent on in­clud­ing a meas­ure that will de­fund Planned Par­ent­hood.

Alex Rogers contributed to this article.
What We're Following See More »
Trump Backtracks on Putin's "Incredible Offer"
2 days ago
Russians Refer to "Verbal Agreements" with Trump
3 days ago

"Two days after President Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, Russian officials offered a string of assertions about what the two leaders had achieved. 'Important verbal agreements' were reached at the Helsinki meeting, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, told reporters in Moscow Wednesday, including preservation of the New Start and INF agreements," and cooperation in Syria.

Trump Was Shown Proof of Russian Interference Before Inauguration
3 days ago

"Two weeks before his inauguration, Donald J. Trump was shown highly classified intelligence indicating that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had personally ordered complex cyberattacks to sway the 2016 American election. The evidence included texts and emails from Russian military officers and information gleaned from a top-secret source close to Mr. Putin, who had described to the C.I.A. how the Kremlin decided to execute its campaign of hacking and disinformation. Mr. Trump sounded grudgingly convinced, according to several people who attended the intelligence briefing. But ever since, Mr. Trump has tried to cloud the very clear findings that he received on Jan. 6, 2017, which his own intelligence leaders have unanimously endorsed."

Trump: High IQ People Loved the Putin Meeting
3 days ago
Comey Says to Vote Democratic This Fall
4 days ago

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.