Actual Iran deal takes backseat to filibuster talk as Senate opens debate
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Actual Iran deal takes backseat to filibuster talk as Senate opens debate

Majority leader calls for Congress not to hide behind ‘procedural obfuscation’ after Democrats sew up enough support to avoid vote and presidential veto

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

In this May 5, 2015, file photo, Senate Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky walks to his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, after a news conference. (Evan Vucci/AP)
In this May 5, 2015, file photo, Senate Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky walks to his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, after a news conference. (Evan Vucci/AP)

WASHINGTON — With bipartisan agreement that Congress is on the brink of a historic vote, the leaders of the Republican and Democratic caucus launched the Senate floor debate on a resolution to nix the Iranian nuclear deal Tuesday, sparring not only over the merits of the landmark pact itself but over the possibility that the Democratic minority might filibuster – and thus block – the final vote.

“I expect that every senator who voted for [the Iran Nuclear Review Act] is now entitled to an up-or-down vote. Not a filibuster or artificial limits on passage, but an important vote on this resolution,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said during his speech, in which he opened the Senate debate over the resolution. “The Senate should not hide behind procedural obfuscation to shield the president or our individual views.”

McConnell warned senators that they would be held responsible by their constituents for the results of the controversial deal, signed in July between Iran and the members of the P5+1.

“The president has said that no deal is better than a bad deal, and while he will be out of office in a few months the rest of the country and the world will have to deal with the predictable consequences of that deal for far longer than a year and a half,” warned McConnell in the opening address.

On Tuesday morning, the Senate Democratic leadership garnered 41 votes against the resolution of disapproval. The Senate requires 60 votes to end debate on the resolution and vote on the resolution, and so the 41-vote threshold could allow Democrats to delay the vote on the bill indefinitely.

If a vote does happen, the Republican majority is expected to put the kibosh on the agreement, forcing President Barack Obama to use his veto pen for only the fifth time in seven years.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid denied that he was trying to avoid a vote on the resolution.

“From the beginning, Senate Democrats have done everything possible to move the debate on the Iran agreement forward in the quickest way possible,” Reid argued. “We agreed to skip the procedural hurdles in order to allow the Senate to begin debate on the resolution itself, and today I’m proposing that the Senate move forward in the most efficient way possible. I’m proposing that after the Senate concludes three days of debate – and serious debate – on this issue, they move directly toward a vote on passage of this – of course with a 60-vote threshold. But Republicans are insisting that the senate go through all the procedural steps.”

Reid accused the Republican leadership of forcing the Senate “to jump through unnecessary procedural hurdles and effectively filibustering their own resolution.”

In a speech that devoted more time to the procedural argument than to his arguments for the Iran deal itself, Reid argued against McConnell’s claim that the legislation of the Iran Nuclear Review required Senators to vote on a resolution of disapproval.

“No Senator who voted for the Iran review act voted to give up a 60-vote threshold,” Reid complained, adding that the May vote for the bill which granted Congressional oversight did not require Senators to vote on the resolution itself.

Earlier in the day, Reid delivered a ringing endorsement of the deal – which he described on the Senate floor as “one of the most critical national security issues of our time” – during a speech at the Carnegie Endowment, which he asked to be included in the Congressional record.

The Senate is expected to begin voting on the resolution of disapproval on Thursday, with the House vote to follow on Friday. Between now and then, however, Capitol Hill will be inundated in a flurry of last-minute activity. According to current legislation, Congress must complete voting on the deal by September 17 — and both houses have breaks for the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah scheduled for next week.

Congress returned from its long summer recess on Tuesday, when the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and nine other organizations organized an action day on Capitol Hill to “seal the deal.” On Tuesday evening, a pro-deal rally sponsored by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is expected to be held on the House steps.

On Wednesday, a delegation of Orthodox rabbis will walk the halls of Congress pushing opposition to the deal, while outside the Senate, Republican presidential hopefuls Senator Ted Cruz and billionaire Donald Trump will join the Tea Party Patriots and the Zionist Organization of America in a “Stop the Iran Deal” rally.

Political superstars, including former vice president Dick Cheney, Senator John McCain, and Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton have or will deliver addresses regarding the deal at think tanks across Washington, while last-minute hearings are underway in both Senate and House committees.

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