WASHINGTON – Shortly after President Barack Obama declared victory Thursday following Senate Democrats’ move to block a resolution of disapproval of the Iran deal, the House of Representatives approved a measure that sets up a legal challenge to the administration.
The House voted 245–186 to pass House Resolution 411, which declares that the president failed to comply with section 2 of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015. The last-minute measure, which was offered by Republican Congressmen Mike Pompeo and Lee Zeldin, was part of a broader push by House conservatives to continue to challenge the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal reached between P5+1 states and Iran in July.
The House vote came less than two hours after Senate Democrats blocked the resolution of disapproval, which was meant to show Congress’s rejection of the nuclear deal. It is now highly unlikely the disapproval legislation would reach Obama’s desk.
But on Tuesday — with hopes of a resolution of disapproval already diminished — Congressman Peter Roskam started the ball rolling on a legal challenge when he raised a question on the privileges of the House of Representatives, demanding access to two agreements negotiated between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The two “side agreements” he said, must be submitted for Congressional review as part of the terms the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, passed in May.
“President Obama broke the very law he signed by failing to provide Congress with the Iran-IAEA side agreements,” Roskam said following the Thursday vote. “Withholding these documents from the American people and their elected representatives completely discredits the transparent review process the administration was legally obligated to provide. In light of this vote, I believe the House should pursue legal action against the administration for its blatant disregard for the law.”
Under the law, the House Parliamentarian, who deals with procedure, may not recognize the 60-day congressional review period until all agreements related to the nuclear deal are transmitted to Congress. The law specifies “side agreements” as one of the types of texts required for submission, but the White House has repeatedly denied that the Iran-IAEA arrangements constitute such agreements.
According to the law, the president cannot lift sanctions against Iran until Congress has the opportunity to fully review the JCPOA and any related documents and to vote on a resolution of disapproval or approval with members having seen all documentation — which House representatives argue is precisely what has been denied to them.
“In clear violation of federal law, repeated requests from leading Democrats and Republicans to review the side agreements were rebuffed by the Obama administration,” Roskam complained.
“Congressional briefings provided by administration officials are a legally insufficient substitute for providing the actual text of these documents.”
On Thursday, White House Spokesman Josh Earnest defended the administration, saying that “we’ve been clear that the documentation [provided to Congress] included all the documentation that was in the possession of the United States government.”
But while the push for legal recourse began as an uprising against the House Republican leadership by the members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, Speaker of the House John Boehner had jumped on the lawsuit bandwagon by Thursday afternoon.
Saying that legal action is “an option that’s very possible,” Boehner complained that “if you read the provisions [of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act], it’s pretty clear that the president has not complied.”
Speaking during a regularly-scheduled weekly press conference, Boehner said that the law “makes clear that any side agreements and any other type of an agreement — including those that do not directly involve us — must be turned over as part of it.”
“I do not believe that [the president]’s complied,” the top House Republican concluded.
Earlier this week, a judge ruled that an ongoing lawsuit by House Republicans against the Obama administration can proceed. That suit, which challenges the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), could serve as a precedent for lawmakers seeking to challenge the executive on the Iran deal on legal grounds.