WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) presented Senate Democrats with an ultimatum on Tuesday night: Allow a simple majority vote on a resolution meant to sink the Iran nuclear deal, or face another vote tying implementation of the nuclear accord to Iran’s recognition of Israel and the release of four Americans held in Iran.
As it became increasingly clear that Senate Democrats were prepared to repeat what they did on Thursday, when they blocked a vote on a resolution of disapproval of the agreement, McConnell warned that the fight to derail the Iran deal was far from over.
The majority leader said that if Democrats again blocked a vote on the nuclear accord, he would force them to make an unpopular vote later in the week.
“I will file on an amendment that would prevent the president from lifting sanctions until Iran meets two simple benchmarks: It must formally recognize Israel’s right to exist, and it must release the American citizens being held in Iranian custody,” he said Tuesday just before the roll call.
Throughout the negotiations that led to the diplomatic breakthrough with Iran, the Obama administration insisted that the scope of their talks was limited to Iran’s nuclear program. McConnell has cut off debate on past legislation to prevent hawks in his own party from pushing amendments that have made Iran recognize Israel and release the four American prisoners preconditions of the nuclear deal. But McConnell insisted on Tuesday, “Linkage is appropriate, and in this negotiation would have been wise."
Tuesday’s vote of 56-42 yielded the same result as last week's, setting the stage for McConnell to file his controversial amendment.
McConnell’s amendment, which likely will come up for a vote on Thursday night, needs 60 votes in order to be attached to the resolution of disapproval on the Iran deal. Senate Democrats can easily block the amendment, but at the political cost of publicly voting against requiring Iran to recognize Israel and to release four American prisoners.
“Democrats seem to think they can end the discussion by blocking an up-or-down vote, then turn around and pretend they care deeply about Israel and human rights,” McConnell said Tuesday. “Well if they vote again to deny the American people a final vote, they’ll have a chance to test the theory.
McConnell’s amendment gimmick is his last chance to challenge the Democrats’ effort to protect the nuclear agreement negotiated in July between Iran, the U.S. and five world powers. Thursday is the final day of Congress’s two-month-long review period, after which President Barack Obama is free to provide sanctions relief to Iran in exchange for the Iranians accepting restrictions on their nuclear program.
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) blasted McConnell’s procedural moves as a waste of the Senate’s nine remaining work days to avert a government shutdown. “Unhappy with [last week’s] outcome, Senate Republicans scheduled another vote on the exact same measure to make a purely political point. The outcome was the same,” he said after Tuesday’s vote. “At best it’s a colossal waste of time — at worst it’s willfully delaying action on the most basic constitutional function of the Congress: funding the government.”
Congress’s right to vote on the nuclear accord comes from legislation passed in the spring, on an overwhelming bipartisan majority. But Democrats, including Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who opposes the agreement, assumed that 60 votes would be needed for the deal to pass, as has become the norm for high-profile pieces of legislation.
Instead, McConnell decided that the resolution of disapproval would only need a majority to pass, meaning it could succeed with no support from the Democrats. In response, all but four members of the Democratic caucus joined the effort to block the vote from taking place.
Although 42 members of the Democratic caucus now support the Iran deal, its fate was sealed two weeks ago when Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) became the 34th supporter. The backing of 34 senators means the chamber could sustain Obama’s veto of any legislation that attempted to scrap the accord.
But Senate Republicans -- all of whom oppose the agreement -- have so far resisted admitting defeat. On Tuesday, Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) reiterated his party’s threat to sue Obama for failing to provide Congress with the text of confidential arrangements between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
“Moving forward is a violation of the law,” Coats said, referring to the implementation of the nuclear accord. “That will be tested in the courts.”
This story has been updated with the vote count and comment from Durbin.
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