WASHINGTON -- Opponents of the Iran nuclear accord have lost the debate in Congress, but are not ready to admit it.
The morning after Senate Democrats blocked a vote that attempted to reject the agreement, effectively ending any possibility that Congress could kill the deal, House Republicans convened their own votes.
"Our fight to stop this bad deal, frankly, is just beginning," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Friday morning, just before the votes. "Never in our history has something with so many consequences for our national security been rammed through with such little support."
The first House vote was on a resolution to approve the Iran deal, and predictably failed, 162 to 269. Every Republican voted against it, with the exception of Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), who voted “present." The approval resolution was not intended to pass, but, rather, to send a message that the nuclear accord does not have majority backing in the House.
The lower chamber then passed a resolution to disapprove of the deal and remove the president’s ability to waive sanctions. The resolution passed 247 to 186, with all but two Democrats opposing it. Again, the vote served only as a messaging tool and had no legal impact, since Senate Democrats had already blocked a similar vote on Thursday night.
Under the terms of the nuclear deal reached in July between the U.S., Iran and five world powers, President Barack Obama's administration will provide Iran with sanctions relief in exchange for the country downsizing its nuclear program and opening itself up to inspections.
Though Friday's House votes cannot impede the president from implementing the deal, opponents of the agreement touted the votes as a victory, pointing out that bipartisan majorities in both chambers have rejected the accord.
Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) celebrated her party’s success in allowing the nuclear agreement to move forward. “Today we will not just be making history as the approval of this agreement goes forward,” she said shortly before the votes. “We will be making progress for the cause of peace in the world.”
But the staunchest critics of the nuclear agreement pushed back on the notion that this was a fait accompli.
“I don’t buy that for a second. I’m not going to lay down here and let the President of the United States run roughshod,” said Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.). Roskam has led the charge in arguing that Obama is violating the law by failing to provide Congress with confidential documents from the International Atomic Energy Agency that detail the agency's investigation into Iran’s past nuclear activities.
House Republicans have threatened to open a lawsuit against the president over access to the IAEA documents, but the Obama administration maintains that the confidential agreements are separate from the broader nuclear deal.
"Is this just a bad idea?” Roskam asked, referring to the accord. “I think it wins the Worst Idea Ever award."
The fact that the votes were held on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks did not go unnoticed by members of Congress, who seized the opportunity to draw connections between the 2001 terror attacks and Iran’s support for terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.
“As we approach Sept. 11, I'd ask my colleagues to please join me in rejecting this bad deal and let's defeat terrorism rather than advance it,” Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) said on Thursday in the lead-up to the debate.
On Friday, Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) spoke against the deal standing in front of images of the World Trade Towers ablaze. "Do not sacrifice the safety, the security and the stability of 300 million Americans for the legacy of one man," he urged his colleagues.
But the added pressure of the symbolism seemed to have little influence on House Democrats -- all but 25 of whom voted for the resolution of approval.
Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), who came out in favor of the nuclear deal earlier this week, called the invocation of the 9/11 attacks a “disservice” to the debate. “Fourteen years ago, I knew people who died that day," he said. "My cousin died. My friends died. I don’t need to be reminded of that. But it will not cloud my decision-making on this important issue."
Now that the House has passed a resolution of disapproval, opponents of the deal in the Senate have until Sept. 17 -- the end of Congress’ two-month review period -- to try and push such a resolution through their chamber, even though it has already been defeated once. If they succeed, the measure would go to the White House where the president will veto it. (There are enough pro-deal Democrats in both houses of Congress to sustain the veto.) Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) rescheduled a duplicate vote for Tuesday, presumably hoping at least two Democrats would have a change of heart, which would give him the votes he needs.
But Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) appeared unconcerned that anyone in his party would switch their vote. “It would be a dumb thing for someone to do, and I have a bunch of smart senators,” he said bluntly Thursday night.