Obama declares victory as Senate Democrats block vote on Iran resolution

President lauds ‘historic step forward’ for diplomacy; AIPAC warns failure to vote on deal creates ‘dangerous moment for America’

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

President Barack Obama speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Thursday, April 2, 2015. (photo credit: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Thursday, April 2, 2015. (photo credit: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama described a Senate procedural vote that blocked a resolution of disapproval of the Iran deal as a “victory for diplomacy,” minutes after just 58 out of 100 senators voted to advance the resolution, falling two votes short of the 60 needed for a supermajority to successfully invoke cloture — a procedure that ceases debate and brings the resolution to a vote .

House Republicans continued to pursue eleventh-hour strategies to derail the international accord and Senate Republicans promised a re-vote, but Thursday’s outcome all but guaranteed that the disapproval legislation would not reach Obama’s desk.

“Today, the Senate took an historic step forward and voted to enable the United States to work with our international partners to enable the implementation of the comprehensive, long-term deal that will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Obama said in a statement issued shortly after the vote. “This vote is a victory for diplomacy, for American national security, and for the safety and security of the world.”

“For nearly two years, we negotiated from a position of strength to reach an agreement that meets our core objectives. Since we concluded these negotiations, we have had the most consequential national security debate since the decision to invade Iraq more than a decade ago. Over the last several weeks, the more members studied the details of this deal, the more they came out in support,” he continued.

“Today, I am heartened that so many Senators judged this deal on the merits, and am gratified by the strong support of lawmakers and citizens alike. Going forward, we will turn to the critical work of implementing and verifying this deal so that Iran cannot pursue a nuclear weapon, while pursuing a foreign policy that leaves our country — and the world — a safer place,” he said.

Obama has campaigned in recent weeks to avoid the resolution’s passage, which would have forced him to use his veto power to preserve the agreement reached between the P5+1 states and Iran. But some Senate Republican leaders seemed loathe Thursday to concede defeat.

“It will be all Iran next week,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn told reporters. “There are going to be more votes. There will be other opportunities for people to change their mind next week, hopefully after they hear from their constituents.”

Although the nuclear agreement was not considered a treaty by the executive branch, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, passed in May of this year, empowered Congress to review the agreement and then vote on a resolution of approval or disapproval.

Had a resolution of disapproval passed both houses with enough votes to override a presidential veto, the president would have not been able to suspend sanctions with Iran and uphold the US’s side of the nuclear agreement.

Shortly after the Senate voted, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) warned that “this is a dangerous moment for America and our allies.”

The organization, which has led the opposition to the deal in Washington, explained that “Congress and the executive branch must now maintain constant vigilance concerning Iranian compliance with the deal and be ready to move quickly against any Iranian effort to advance its nuclear quest.”

In its Thursday evening statement, AIPAC noted that despite the failure to invoke cloture, there was a “solid, bipartisan majority” in the Senate that “made it clear that it rejects the profoundly flawed nuclear deal with Iran.”

The organization complained that “the American people deserved a direct up or down vote on the resolution of disapproval,” something now unlikely to happen in the Senate, and urged those who voted against cloture “to reconsider.”

Graphic shows procedural vote in US Senate for Iran deal. (AP)
Graphic shows procedural vote in US Senate for Iran deal. (AP)

Fifty four Republicans and four Democrats voted for cloture – and thus against the nuclear deal – while 40 Democrats and the two independents who caucus with the Democrats voted against cloture.

The Republican Jewish Coalition issued a statement lamenting the vote and what it described as the “narrow and partisan” support for the Iran deal.

“This vote shows that most Democrats have chosen to stand with President Obama over the American people and Israel. Sadly, the chasm between Republican and Democrat support for our national security and greatest ally has never been larger. Support for this misguided deal with Iran has been narrow and partisan while opposition has been bi-partisan,” RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks said in the statement.

“With this vote, we enter a new era in American politics. The sad reality is that a dividing line has opened showing that too many Democrats can no longer be counted on as stalwart defenders of Israel.” he went on.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican presidential candidate, warned those who voted against cloture that they were now responsible for the long-term outcomes of the nuclear agreement.

“You own this,” he admonished. “You own every ‘I’ and every ‘T’ and every bullet, and you own everything that is to follow, and it’s going to be holy hell.”

Although the House of Representatives is expected to vote on a series of three Iran deal resolutions on Friday, J Street — which has lobbied intensively in favor of the agreement — declared Thursday that the battle was over, and claimed victory.

“We have had a great national debate on the merits of this agreement but that debate is now over,” the organization wrote in a statement issued Thursday afternoon.

“As strong supporters of the Iran nuclear agreement, J Street is pleased that President Obama will not be required to exercise his veto power in order to move forward with its implementation,” said J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami. “The wide and vocal backing the President has received from his party in Congress has sent a clear message to the world that the United States is ready and able to honor its international commitments.”

J Street expressed concern that “while today’s vote should be viewed as definitive…some lawmakers apparently remain intent on devising new ways to undermine the agreement through separate legislation.”

The House of Representatives is likely to be the focus of just such challenges, as it was poised to vote late Thursday on a measure that asserted that Obama had not lived up to his obligations under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, and had not provided Congress with all documents and agreements related to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — the final agreement reached with Tehran.

That vote could set up a legal challenge to determine whether agreements reached between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency constituted “side agreements” under the legislation, and thus had to be provided to Congress before the review period could start.

AP contributed to this report.

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