WASHINGTON - A Senate committee voted unanimously Tuesday to give Congress the power to review a potential Iran nuclear deal after a June 30 negotiating deadline, in a compromise with the White House that allows President Obama to avoid possible legislative disapproval of the deal before it can be completed.
Under a bipartisan bill likely to move quickly to the full Senate, the Foreign Relations Committee voted 19-0 to approve the measure, which also gives Congress at least 30 days after an agreement is signed to consider it, before Obama could move to waive or suspend any congressionally mandated sanctions against Iran.
During that period, lawmakers could vote their disapproval of the agreement. Any such resolution would have to scale a relatively high bar to become law; in the Senate, it would require 60 votes to pass and 67 to override a presidential veto.
The compromise avoided a potentially destructive showdown between the White House and Congress, and a possible free-for-all of congressional action that Obama has said could derail the negotiations while they are still underway. It followed extensive administration lobbying on Capitol Hill, including phone calls from Obama and a closed-door Senate meeting Tuesday morning with Secretary of State John Kerry and other senior officials.
While the administration was "not particularly thrilled" by the final result, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said before the vote, it was "the kind of compromise that the president would be willing to sign."
In passing the legislation, the committee chairman, Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), hailed the "true emergence" of bipartisanship on a crucial foreign-policy issue, and congratulated Congress in passing sanctions legislation in the first place that "brought Iran to the negotiating table."
Corker said he was confident of bipartisan support in the full Senate and in the House, where Speaker John A. Boehner said he expected to move quickly.
Throughout debate over the legislation, the administration insisted that Congress has no power to approve or disapprove any deal Obama agreed to with Iran, and could only vote on lifting sanctions it passed in the first place.
Those sanctions are only part of the long-standing restrictions on Iran, which include sanctions imposed over the years by executive order that the president retains the right to waive. Other sanctions have been imposed by the United Nations and the European Union.
The question of when sanctions would be waived, or lifted altogether, as part of an agreement, is still to be negotiated, and has been a subject of extensive political jousting between the United States and its five partners at the table (Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China) and Iran.
A framework accord between the two sides signed April 2 indicated that no sanctions would be removed until Iran completes all the requirements of a deal - including sharp reductions in its ability to enrich uranium and other measures that the administration has said blocks all of its "pathways" to development of a nuclear weapon, along with intrusive inspections. The administration has estimated that it would take Iran at least six months to a year to complete those steps after a deal is signed.
Last week, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said that his interpretation of the framework was sanctions relief would come immediately once a final deal is signed.
An earlier bill proposed by Corker would have given Congress power over all sanctions, not just those originally imposed through legislation, and said that no deal could go into effect absent an affirmative vote by Congress.
The bill approved Tuesday is limited to congressional sanctions, and gives Congress the option to approve or disapprove an agreement, or to do nothing.
Earnest said negotiations with senators included assurances that the bill would be "the one and only mechanism for codifying precisely what the Congress' oversight is into this matter."
While the compromise paved the way for the unanimous vote, some committee Republicans had sought to toughen the bill. Among more than 50 proposed amendments were changes that could have created new and perhaps unworkable conditions for the deal's approval.
The committee includes two presidential candidates, Rand Paul (R., Ky.) and Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), eager to burnish their national security credentials.
Rubio initially proposed an amendment that would require Iran to formally recognize Israel's right to exist. He did not offer the amendment - although he indicated he may bring it up on the Senate floor.
The Senate Deal
A Senate panel approved legislation that would give Congress the power to review a potential nuclear deal with Iran but only after talks are completed by a June 30 deadline. The compromise makes several changes amenable to the White House.
An earlier version sought to put any plan by President Obama to lift sanctions on Iran on hold for up to 60 days while Congress reviewed the deal. The compromise shortens the review period to 30 days. In that time, Obama would be able to lift sanctions imposed by presidential action but would be blocked from easing sanctions levied
Obama would be required to certify to Congress every 90 days that Iran is in compliance with terms.
The legislation does not require Iran to accept Israel's right to exist. It does not require the White House to certify that Iran
is not supporting terrorism.
Obama retains the right to veto any action to scuttle an Iran pact. To override,
a veto would require a two-thirds majority of both House and Senate. - APEndText