Strange Bedfellows on the Iran Nuclear Review Act

 In Peace Action West News

Despite all of the contention surrounding the Iran Nuclear Review Act of 2015 a.k.a. the Corker/Menendez bill, the bill passed in the Senate yesterday 98-1, and assuming a similar version passes in the House, Congress will have the opportunity to block the nuclear deal with Iran from going forward.

The Corker bill only rose to the forefront of the debate on the Iran nuclear deal once the framework agreement was announced on April 2, and critics of the deal realized they had no chance of assembling a bi-partisan coalition to advance the Kirk/Menendez bill, a sanctions bill that would have almost certainly derailed negotiations. The Corker bill has had a much easier time gaining bipartisan support. Most democrats were unwilling to overtly sabotage the negotiations by backing the sanctions bill, but the idea that Congress should have a say in negotiations proved harder to resist. That is why the bill passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee 19-0, and why it passed today on the Senate floor 98-1.

Interestingly, the two Senators who did not vote for it did so for entirely different reasons. Tom Cotton (R-AR), yes the very same Tom Cotton who authored the infamous #47 traitors letter in March, was the lone Senator to vote against the bill, presumably because he thinks it does not do enough to damage the ongoing negotiations, and because the Senate leadership refused to allow a vote on his controversial amendment requiring Iran to recognize Israel’s right to exist as part of any nuclear agreement. His no vote is a tell tale sign that he is following in the footsteps of his mentor John McCain and working to make a name for himself as a maverick.

The lone abstention however was cast for an entirely different reason. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has been one of the most outspoken supporters of the nuclear negotiations with Iran, and her choice to abstain from today’s vote is a clear statement against the Corker bill, and in favor of diplomacy.

According to Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Senate majority leader, the purpose of the Corker bill is to ensure that the American people, through their elected representatives, have a say on the nuclear deal with Iran. However according to Bill Kristol, a well-known neoconservative commentator, the intended purpose of the Corker bill is to “kill the deal, not merely to complicate its trajectory.” While the Corker sets a realtively high bar for disapproval of the nuclear deal (2/3 of both houses would ultimately have to vote against the deal to kill it), it does complicate the trajectory of negotiations. It creates a review period in which the President cannot waive congressional sanctions, which is significant because the timing of sanctions relief has proven to be a sticking point for Iran. It also raises questions for Iran about whether or not the US can uphold its end of the bargain if a deal is reached.

Boxer’s abstention from yesterday’s vote was a pointed, albeit quiet, statement against the Corker bill. Her unwavering support for diplomacy will be deeply missed when she leaves Congress in 2016, but yesterday, she made it clear that she will not leave quietly.

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