Right-wing uprising in House stalls votes on Iran deal

GOP representatives demand copies of ‘side deals’ between IAEA and Tehran before voting on procedures for resolution of disapproval

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

Peter Roskam (CC BY-SA Gage Skidmore, Flickr)
Peter Roskam (CC BY-SA Gage Skidmore, Flickr)

WASHINGTON — Facing a rebellion within its own ranks, the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives on Wednesday suspended floor debates on the Iran nuclear deal, rather than deliberate the procedural votes for the proposed resolution of disapproval of the agreement.

The recess came as leadership reportedly faced an internal uprising of Republican representatives, who threatened to tank the vote until President Barack Obama turns over the text of agreements made between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran.

A group of representatives from the conservative House Freedom Caucus announced that they support a drive led by Rep. Peter Roskam to refuse to vote on the resolution, arguing that the president has not fulfilled his side of the terms of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act.

That legislation, passed in May 2015, requires the administration to hand over all documents related to the nuclear agreement. The administration has argued that it does not have the text of the IAEA-Iran agreements, which cover the terms for inspection of sensitive nuclear sites such as Parchin, and that the agreements are not “secret side deals” but rather standard operating procedure for the IAEA.

On Tuesday, Roskam raised a question of the privileges of the House of Representatives, demanding access to the two agreements negotiated between Iran and the IAEA, which, he said, was required under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015.

Roskam argues that 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.

The May legislation prohibits the president from lifting statutory sanctions against Iran until Congress has the opportunity to both fully review the JCPOA and related documents and to vote on a resolution of disapproval or approval.

“A day after the nuclear accord was announced, reports surfaced that Iran and the IAEA struck two side agreements related to Tehran’s past nuclear work. 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 as part of his demand. “Congressional briefings provided by administration officials are a legally insufficient substitute for providing the actual text of these documents.”

Roskam insisted that until the administration provides the documents — which, it says, it does not itself have access to — Congress should not vote on the planned resolution of disapproval.

“All members of Congress, regardless of their position on the nuclear deal, should demand the robust and transparent review process necessary to cast a fully informed vote,” Roskam asserted.

A number of members of Congress have repeatedly called on the administration to provide access to the IAEA-Iran agreements, but the administration has demurred, briefing members of Congress on the agreements’ contents instead. Many administration officials, including Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, acknowledge that they themselves have not read the IAEA-Iran agreements.

The House of Representatives’ leadership recessed debate on the House floor on Wednesday afternoon, after a conference meeting earlier in the day revealed that Freedom Caucus members planned to sink the procedural vote scheduled for the afternoon. The leadership was to meet at 4 p.m. in Washington to discuss its strategy as to whether, or how, to proceed with votes on the resolution of disapproval.

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