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
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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.
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