WASHINGTON -- The two-month Republican-led effort to kill the Iranian nuclear accord in Congress failed Thursday, after 42 Democrats filibustered a procedural vote related to the nuclear deal.
“Today’s outcome was clear, decisive, and final,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “There’s now no doubt that the United States Congress will allow this deal to go forward.”
President Barack Obama lauded the vote as a “victory for diplomacy, for American national security and for the safety and security of the world.” He described the debate over the Iranian nuclear deal as the most consequential since the 2002 decision to invade Iraq.
“Going forward, we will turn to the critical work of implementing and verifying this deal so that Iran cannot pursue a nuclear weapon,” Obama said.
The procedural measure, which required 60 votes to pass, would have allowed the Senate to then cast a separate vote against the nuclear deal and rescind the president’s ability to waive some sanctions against Iran. That second vote, known as a resolution of disapproval, would have required only a simple majority to pass -- meaning that it could have succeeded even with little support from Democrats.
The minority Democratic Party pushed for a 60-vote threshold on the resolution of disapproval so that the resolution would not be able to move forward without broad bipartisan support. When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) rejected the request, the Democrats moved to block the vote from occurring.
The decision to filibuster the procedural vote and block the actual vote on the nuclear deal was a tough choice for some Democrats who support the Iran nuclear agreement but object on principle to the idea of obstructing a vote on a major national security issue.
Shortly after announcing his support for the nuclear deal, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said he wanted to see an up-or-down vote on the issue, suggesting that he would not join his party in filibustering the procedural vote.
His decision to join in the filibuster was likely influenced by McConnell’s unwillingness to establish a 60-vote threshold, rather than a simple majority, on the resolution of disapproval.
At the center of the dispute is a law drafted by Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) earlier this year. Although Corker is now calling for a simple majority vote, two of the key architects of the legislation that provided Congress the opportunity to review the Iran deal say that the plan was always to require 60 votes to pass a resolution on the nuclear accord.
“The Republicans wanted a 60-vote threshold for a motion of approval, just like we wanted a 60-vote threshold for a motion of disapproval,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), an original co-sponsor of the law, on Thursday. “So the issue now is, ‘Oh, we want to change the rule for the motion of disapproval, it’s now a 50-vote threshold.’ That’s just a non-starter.”
In the Senate, requiring 60 votes on significant pieces of legislation has become common practice. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who opposes the nuclear deal and helped draft the legislation that guaranteed Congress the right to vote on the agreement, admitted on Tuesday that he always anticipated the resolution would require 60 votes to pass.
Immediately after the vote on Thursday, McConnell said he would hold another identical procedural vote next week, in the hopes that two or more Democrats will agree to abstain from filibustering the vote.
“If the President's so proud of this deal, he shouldn't be afraid," said McConnell, suggesting that Democrats should allow a majority vote on the resolution of disapproval. “What are you protecting him from?”
McConnell has until Sept. 17, the end of the two-month review period granted to Congress under the Corker bill, to convince Democrats to allow a simple majority vote on the resolution of disapproval. But it is unlikely that Democrats will agree to such terms.
“I would just say to Senator McConnell, you can call it another time, you can call it 10 more times, and we'll get the same result," said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).
"What a colossal waste of Senate opportunity to do that," he added, noting the impending threat of another government shutdown.
Thursday’s action in the Senate effectively renders moot the ongoing legislative process in the House. Opponents of the nuclear accord would have needed a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate to kill the agreement.
Nevertheless, House Republicans are pursuing a three-pronged vote on the Iran deal, partially aimed at finding Obama in violation of the law.
Shortly after the Senate vote on Thursday, the House voted 245-186 on a nonbinding resolution declaring that Congress’ two-month review period of the nuclear deal has not actually started yet, because lawmakers do not have access to a set of confidential agreements between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency over its investigation into Iran’s alleged past nuclear weapons development. Under the Corker bill, the president is obligated to provide Congress with the complete text of the nuclear agreement with Iran.
The House is scheduled to vote Friday on both a resolution of approval and a resolution of disapproval of the Iran deal. And House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) suggested on Thursday that it might be possible to sue the president over the IAEA agreements. But those documents are off-limits even to the Obama administration, which maintains that they are separate from the broader nuclear deal.
Though several Senate opponents of the nuclear accord have expressed dissatisfaction about not being able to see the IAEA documents, they have indicated they will not follow the House’s plan.
"I think the best way to express your displeasure with not getting all the documents is to vote against the deal itself, not to raise some other issues," Corker told reporters on Tuesday.