Bipartisan

09.22.12

'Sense Of The Congress' With Bibi Over Obama

After midnight yesterday, the Senate voted 90 to 1 to express the "sense of the Congress" as weighing in on the debate about what red lines the U.S. should declare against Iran. You'll remember this issue as the one roiling the relationship between Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama at the moment. On the Hill, almost everyone—including most of the Democrats—just sided with Netanyahu.

The resolution, initially introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in the Spring, laid out a non-binding position that "strongly supports United States policy to prevent the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability" and "rejects any United States policy that would rely on efforts to contain a nuclear weapons-capable Iran." Obama has set his red line at Iran producing nuclear weapons rather than the "capability" to do so, a phrase loaded with a special yet ill-defined meaning in proliferation matters.

The "capability" debate was initially framed as one over "containment" in February, and hawks like Graham found little bipartisan support until their position became a centerpiece of the AIPAC policy conference in March. But the initial resolution from Graham in May stalled. Then things rose into the national consciousness.

This month, an unprecedented campaign by Benjamin Netanyahu to get Obama to shift his Iran red line drew jeers from liberals and even Members of Congress. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) upbraided Netanyahu for interjecting himself in American politics. AIPAC took notice, e-mailing its members last week with articles on Obama's refusal to lower his threshold for war and Netanyahu's denials of interference. The debate seemed, for now, over, with Obama victorious. Then this week, Majority Leader Reid suprised everyone by re-introducing the Graham resolution.

In the end, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) cast the only vote against the measure and two Democrats—Boxer and Washington's Patty Murray—abstained along with seven Republicans (one being the convalescing Senate hawk Mark Kirk). Insofar as Mitt Romney can pick and hold onto any position, the Congress sided with him too. (Someone forgot to tell the Democrats that Republicans have already politicized Iran red lines.)

This top bipartisan Senate priority—spurning Obama's Iran polcy—came as a final act of the chamber before it joined the House in the earliest pre-election recess in half a century.