US Senate debates Iran nuclear bill, rejects amendment

Senator Ron Johnson.

Sen. Ron Johnson. (Wikipedia)

The Senate rejected an attempt to elevate any deal with Iran into a treaty, claiming that toughening the terms could hinder negotiations. 

By: AP and World Israel News Staff

The Republican-controlled Senate on Tuesday turned back an attempt to elevate any nuclear deal with Iran into a treaty, a vote that gave momentum to lawmakers trying to pass a bill giving Congress a chance to review and possibly reject any agreement with Tehran.

The amendment, filed by Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, failed 39 to 57.

Supporters want the bill passed free of controversial add-ons they claim could scuttle negotiations with Tehran, draw a presidential veto or leave lawmakers with no say on a national security threat.

As written, the legislation would block President Barack Obama from waiving congressional sanctions for at least 30 days while lawmakers weigh in on any final deal the U.S. and five other nations can reach with Iran. And it would stipulate that if senators disapprove the deal, Obama would lose authority to waive certain economic penalties — an event that would certainly prompt a presidential veto.

The bill has gained tacit approval from Obama. He says he will sign it as written, but the White House warns that he will reconsider if the measure is substantially changed. Sen. Bob Corker, a lead sponsor of the bill and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the measure in its current form, has 67 backers, enough to override a presidential veto.

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Corker and his supporters are trying to bat down more than 50 amendments have been introduced so far — all by Republicans.

Sen. Bob Corker

Sen. Bob Corker (AP/Andrew Harnik)

Johnson’s failed amendment would have turned any final nuclear agreement with Tehran into a treaty, requiring ratification by two-thirds of the Senate.

The amendment failed just hours after former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was national security adviser under President George W. Bush, said any Iran nuclear deal is an executive agreement that doesn’t need to be a treaty. “The proposed Iranian nuclear agreement is classically an executive agreement and doesn’t need to be a treaty with advice and consent of the Senate,” she said. “But Congress should be able to opine, given that congressionally mandated sanctions would have to be lifted.”

Johnson’s failed amendment would have turned any final nuclear agreement with Tehran into a treaty, requiring ratification by two-thirds of the Senate.

It was the first vote on the dozens of amendments under consideration.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a White House hopeful, wants to amend the bill to require Iran’s leaders to publicly accept Israel’s right to exist, a nearly impossible mandate. Another presidential candidate, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, hopes to put the onus on advocates to win congressional approval of a deal, rather than on opponents, to gather enough votes for rejection.

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Several other Republican senators had suggested changes, including John Thune, who filed an amendment that insists on international nuclear inspectors’ access to Iranian military sites. Sen. John Barrasso wants to restore a section of the initial bill that would require the president to certify every 90 days that it is not engaged in supporting terrorism against America. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., wants the bill to address four Americans being held in Iran.