One of the Senate Democrats who opposed President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran in 2015, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who is a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee, told Politico on Tuesday that “there are issues that are on the table” regarding the new nuclear deal with Iran.
Back in 2015, Cardin, together with former Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), resisted the deal, and his office issued a statement saying “each senator and member of Congress has to make his or her own decision based on what is right for our country—not party, not president, but the national security of the United States of America.”
Nothing has changed in that regard.
The Republican majority in 2015 labored to defeat Obama’s deal with Iran, but Senate Democrats filibustered a procedural vote on a measure that would have registered formal disapproval of the Iran deal, and the Senate then voted 58-42 against the deal––2 short of a required 60-vote threshold, on whether to end debate on the Iran deal, failing to reach an up-or-down vote on the disapproval resolution. Meager as it was, the vote marked a major victory for Obama.
The Senate is in Democratic hands now, but President Biden’s advantage is tenuous since all 50 Republicans oppose the deal. Should some Democrats side with the opposition to the deal, it would die on arrival.
The Hill reported this week that the Biden administration’s efforts to bring back the Iran nuclear deal are facing growing skepticism in Congress from Democrats, too. Bob Menendez, who opposed the deal in 2015, is now the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is on the record as claiming he doesn’t know enough about the details of the deal to say whether he supports it. Not a great sign for the White House.
Menendez told The Hill that if the Biden side is only asking Iran to delay the development of its nuclear weapons, it won’t be good enough to earn his support. “If what we may have – and I don’t know what we may have – is just a rolling back of time, you can’t roll back knowledge,” he said.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told Politico after a classified briefing on Tuesday that what he heard from US intelligence about Iran’s breakout time before it produces a nuclear device was “chilling.” But rather than opposing the deal, Murphy insisted: “We have no reason to believe that there is a pathway, other than diplomacy, to extend the breakout time.”
So, one down, one up.
Across the aisle, according to reports, there’s firm opposition to the deal. Sen. Jim Risch (R-Id), the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said on Tuesday: “I’m appalled at the concessions this administration is considering to placate the Iranian regime. A deal that provides $90-$130 billion in sanctions relief, relieves sanctions against Iran’s worst terror and human rights offenders, and delists the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps does not support our national security interests.”
Senate Democrats are worried about Biden’s reported plan to remove the IRGC from the US terrorist list, which would give the group ample access to the world’s banking system, enabling them to disburse funds to proxy agents everywhere.
“I certainly would very much like to maintain that they are a terrorist organization because they are a terrorist organization,” Cardin told politico. “I recognize that negotiations will do things sometimes that some of us don’t like. So, I’m not going to try to draw red lines. But that designation should remain.”
On Tuesday, State Dept. Spokesperson Ned Price told reporters: “We have always known since this process began last April that a mutual return to compliance was something that we deemed to be in our national interest, but we always knew it to be an uncertain proposition because, of course, it would take more than our effort to achieve it. It would take a willing partner on the Iranian side. And so, the jury is still out as to whether we will be – in fact, be able to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. As I said yesterday, an agreement of this sort is neither imminent nor is it certain.”
Price added that the administration is still prepared for either contingency: “A world in which we have a mutual return to compliance – that is to say, a world in which the JCPOA is the means by which we put Iran’s nuclear program back in the box, we reimpose those permanent, verifiable limits on Iran’s nuclear program and prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
“But given that this has always been an uncertain proposition, … we’ve long discussed … alternatives with our partners in the region. We’ve been doing this with our European allies … France, Germany, and the UK. We’ve had these discussions with our Israeli partners, with our partners in the Gulf, and farther afield as well. So, we have put a lot of planning and thought into this. For obvious reasons we haven’t detailed publicly what that might look like, but it is not for lack of planning on our part.”
But no one is expecting the Biden administration to remain true to the above promise. The Pentagon may be willing and able to remove the Iran problem from the map, but the White House, which has been so reluctant to pursue an aggressive aid program in Ukraine, will no doubt remain equally reluctant on Iran. And this could include actively preventing Israel from taking matters into its own hands.
Still, there’s one major difference between the way things stood under Obama and nowadays. The Republicans have managed to pass legislation to prevent future presidents from imposing deals that are so vividly contrary to US national security interests. Now Biden and the Democratic leadership in Congress will attempt a run around that legislation.
Ellie Cohanim reported recently in Newsweek (Biden’s New Iran Deal Legally Requires Congressional Review): “Back in 2015, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) debated the merits of the JCPOA, otherwise known as the ‘Iran nuclear deal,’ with his fellow Democrats. He ultimately concluded that the deal posed a threat to American interests and opposed it.
“That was then. Today, it is not only likely that Senator Schumer will do a 180-degree reversal, but he might even shut down debate on the Biden administration’s impending new Iran deal—and in doing so, violate the law. If Democratic Party leaders refuse to submit for congressional review the new Iran deal expected to be announced imminently, they will be violating the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 (INARA) and thereby overriding the will of the American people.
“INARA was passed to prevent the very situation that we find ourselves in now: a president attempting to ram through an agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran without a review of the agreement’s terms by the American people’s duly elected representatives in Congress. INARA requires that the executive branch provide Congress with the text of any putative agreement with Iran and conditions America’s entrance into the deal on congressional support. INARA recognizes the foreign policy significance of any nuclear accord struck with the mullahs, and it empowers Congress to check the president’s unilateral power to enter into such an agreement. What’s more, it does so in unmistakably plain language.”
Say it ain’t so, Chuck…