In what may be the most significant direct result of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the joint session of Congress last Tuesday, March 3, Democrats and Republicans are now within spitting distance of ensuring that Congress will be able to review the details of the nuclear capabilities agreement the administration and the other members of the P5+1 are currently negotiating with Iran.
Just a few days ago it did not look as if any bipartisan breakthrough was in the cards any time soon, especially given several real tangles between the parties before, during and immediately after Netanyahu’s speech.
The Israeli prime minister’s speech to Congress became, despite Netanyahu’s claimed efforts to avoid that to the contrary, a wildly partisan mosh pit, with allegations of disrespect hurled at Netanyahu by certain Democrats and allegations of anti-Semitism smeared on those who refused to attend.
But Democrats and Republicans escorted Netanyahu into the chambers, and there was enthusiastic applause for the Israeli head of state from nearly everyone in the room (Rep. Pelosi’s very public meltdown notwithstanding).
And then, just a few hours after the address, Netanyahu met with a small bipartisan group of Senators in Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office.
That meeting included Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).
But the boxing match bells went off signaling yet another round when Sen. McConnell (R-KY) announced later on Tuesday that he intended to call a vote next week on proposed legislation which would require congressional approval of any deal with Iran.
That legislation, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, had been introduced by Sen. Corker (R-TN) last Friday, Feb. 27.
INARA would delay the lifting of sanctions on Iran and block the implementation of any agreement between Iran and the P5+1 at least until after a period of Congressional review takes place.
The Democratic co-sponsors of that legislation were infuriated by McConnell’s move. They said they understood there had been an agreement to wait to bring the bill up for a vote until after the March 24 framework deadline for the negotiating parties.
Nine Senate Democrats and one Independent (Angus King, of Maine) who had supported the congressional approval legislation penned a curt letter to McConnell, which was sent on Wednesday, March 4
The letter was signed by Sen. Menendez (D-NJ), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and others, and informed McConnell that there was no need to rush the bill out for a vote, as no final agreement with Iran was expected before the end of June.
“We remain committed to working on this bill in a bipartisan manner,” the senators informed McConnell, but they warned him, “we will only vote for this bill after it has gone through the regular mark-up process in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and after the March 24the deadline for the political framework agreement.”
Without the support of the Democrats who signed the letter, there is no way the INARA could survive President Obama’s promise of a presidential veto.
McConnell, ceding to the wishes of the Democrats who are willing to support INARA, so long as the timing is right, chose to undo his decision to call up INARA for a vote next week.
As a result of McConnell’s concession, INARA won the support of an additional four Senate Democrats: Chuck Schumer (NY), Ben Cardin (Maryland), Richard Blumenthal (Connecticut) and Chris Coons (Delaware).
In other words, this exercise in bipartisan cooperation means that INARA is now only three votes away from a veto-proof majority, and with lots more time to seek additional supporters.