Lawmakers warn Iran deal won’t have easy time in Congress

Lawmakers warn Iran deal won’t have easy time in Congress

Senate leader Mitch McConnell says emerging pact on nuclear program won’t be ‘easy sell’ in Congress

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

Majority leader Mitch McConnell (CC BY-SA Gage Skidmore, Flickr)
Majority leader Mitch McConnell (CC BY-SA Gage Skidmore, Flickr)

WASHINGTON — As reports emerged from Vienna that a nuclear deal could be struck as early as Sunday night, Washington’s leading congressional point people on nuclear talks with Iran warned that the Obama administration would have a tough time selling the pact in Washington.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Fox News Sunday that the deal “is going to be a very hard sell for the administration,” amid reports that both sides are looking for ways to sell the deal at home once it is reached.

If an agreement is reached between Iran and the P5+1 member states, Congress will have 60 days to review the deal, and then can vote either on a resolution of approval or disapproval of the agreement.

During his interview, McConnell suggested that the Senate would consider a resolution of disapproval, and said that he believed that a number of Democrats would join the Republican majority in the Senate in voting against the deal.

“I know there will be a strong pull not to go against the president on something as important as this is to him, but I hope there will be enough Democrats willing to look at this objectively,” McConnell added.

A resolution of disapproval that passes could serve to prevent the president from lifting some of the congressionally imposed sanctions against Iran.

Unlike a failed vote of approval, however, a vote of disapproval is subject to a presidential veto.

McConnell said that after a near-inevitable presidential veto, the deal’s opponents would have to enlist 13 Democrats to override the veto.

Democrat Robert Menendez, one of the Democratic Senators most likely to pull away from the administration on any vote on the Iran deal, told ABC’s “This Week” that he was against the emerging pact.

“The problem here is that we have gone from preventing Iran having a nuclear ability, to managing it. What we are doing is basically rolling back sanctions for — not rolling back Iran’s illicit nuclear infrastructure, but rolling back sanctions for verification,” he said.

Menendez explained that he believes that the talks “started off with the wrong premise.”

He also stressed that questions remained for members of Congress who were waiting to review a deal, including “how this deal structures our ability to make sure that if that’s the best deal you’re going to get, what type of verification inspection regime, is it still going to be any time, any place for the International Atomic Energy Administration, what type of sanctions relief are we giving?”

House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, also offered a cautious note on the deal that will face congressional review as early as Monday.

“No deal is better than a bad deal,” Boehner stressed on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “From everything that’s leaked from these negotiations, the administration has backed away from almost all of the guidelines that they set up for themselves.”

Senator Bob Corker, author of the legislation allowing for a congressional vote on the deal, said he was “glad that negotiators are taking their time,” though he said that US negotiators “really crossed the Rubicon during the Joint Plan of Action when we went from dismantlement to monitoring.

“I believe that adherence to the deadline was working to Iran’s advantage,” Corker said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” saying that the deadlines increased the incentive toward brinksmanship in the talks.

Corker said that he believes that Congress has had a key role in trying to get negotiators to “stiffen the red lines,” and acknowledged that Congress may work to contravene an agreement that was already made with the consent of the other P5+1 member states.

“I understand that the world’s eyes are going to be on Congress when this is over, but we have responsibilities to carry out,” Corker stated. “At the end of the day I think people understand that if this is a bad deal that is going to allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon, they own this deal and will have to answer for it.”

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