WASHINGTON -- House Republicans emerged from a hastily called Wednesday conference meeting with a new strategy for opposing the Iran nuclear deal: a purely symbolic, three-part vote that lets them criticize the agreement in a variety of ways.
It was an unexpected shift by House GOP leaders, who just hours earlier were set to begin debate on a resolution of disapproval of the nuclear agreement reached in July between Iran, the U.S. and five other world powers. Because of legislation passed in the spring, lawmakers have 60 days to review and ultimately vote on the deal. The review period ends Sept. 17.
But conservative Republicans, who have been pushing for access to confidential International Atomic Energy Agency documents, rebelled against their leadership and vowed to sink a procedural vote on the resolution unless their concerns were addressed. Until Congress gets its hands on those documents, they argued, the review period hasn't even begun. The documents detail the IAEA's investigation into Iran's alleged past nuclear weapons development -- and access to those documents is off-limits even to the Obama administration.
House GOP leaders recognized that they did not have the votes to move forward without support from conservatives, so they caved and scheduled an afternoon meeting to hash out another way forward.
They emerged less than an hour later with a new plan for a series of three votes: The first will be on a resolution stating that President Barack Obama did not submit all the necessary documents related to the Iran deal and therefore the 60-day congressional review period has not yet taken effect. The second will be on a bill to approve the Iran deal, which will likely fail in the Republican-led House and is intended to be a show of dissatisfaction. The third will be on a bill aimed at preventing Obama from lifting some sanctions on Iran.
The House Rules Committee is expected to meet Wednesday evening and the House is still on track for a final vote on Friday, said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), whom HuffPost spoke to as he left the conference meeting.
"We're pretty unified on this," Smith said. "We're getting our act together."
The last-minute change in strategy may give House Republicans a chance to get their views on record, but the votes themselves are essentially meaningless. Senate leaders have already signaled that they're sticking with the original plan to vote on a resolution of disapproval, and the president has the votes in both chambers to sustain a veto of that measure.
All of this happens with the looming deadline of Sept. 17, when the Iran deal takes effect anyway. But Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), who led the conservative rebellion, said Tuesday that Congress must be shown the confidential IAEA documents.
"Until they comply with the law, the clock doesn't tick," Roskam said. "After the clock ticks, there's a vote. This is not an argument that says this is a bad deal -- although I believe it is. This is a process argument."
A handful of House Republicans insisted that the first vote, on the resolution that says the review period has not yet started, is significant because it could open the door for lawmakers to sue the Obama administration for violating the law guaranteeing Congress the opportunity to review the complete text of the nuclear agreement.
"The president has not complied with the law he signed," said Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), referring to the legislation passed in the spring. The new plan, he said, "leaves the options open. Maybe the House attempts to [file a lawsuit] or maybe a private party attempts to."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) seemed amused by the GOP change in strategy.
"You know what? That's cute. That's cuuute, as we say in Texas," Pelosi told reporters earlier Wednesday. "But you know, this thing has a deadline: September 17."
"I don't know where that takes us," Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Wednesday of the House's new approach, "because as [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch [McConnell] mentioned ... the clock ends on Sept. 17, and the president is going to go ahead and begin lifting the sanctions."
Corker, who is the author of the disapproval resolution, suggested new House GOP complaints over the IAEA documents are irrelevant.
"I think most of us who know as much as we know about the deal -- even if the two side agreements were available and pure as the driven snow, meaning they were outstanding documents -- I don't think that would change our view of whether allowing Iran to industrialize their nuclear program is a bad deal," he said.
Pelosi noted the irony of GOP infighting over the resolution of disapproval when they were the ones who demanded it in the first place. Democrats and the White House just agreed to it because of "kumbaya and all that," she said, and because they knew it wouldn't survive a veto.
"All of this didn't ever even have to happen," Pelosi said. "If they don't want to have the vote, they don't have to have the vote."
White House spokesman Eric Schultz mocked Republicans for arguing the review period won't begin until Iran side deals are disclosed.
"Sounds like a plan hatched up at Tortilla Coast on a Tuesday night," he said during a press gaggle, referring to a solidly mediocre Mexican restaurant on Capitol Hill where conservative Republicans met Tuesday to strategize on Iran.
Laura Barron-Lopez contributed reporting.
CORRECTION: A quote from Rep. Scott Perry was previously misattributed to Rep. Tim Murphy.
This story has been updated to include additional comment from Sen. Bob Corker.