Extra Hurdle

Can Congress Vote On Iran Deal?

The top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is making a final bid to compel the Obama administration to submit any deal on Iran’s nuclear program to Congress for a vote.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty

Next week, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) will try one last time to pass legislation giving Congress the right to vote on a deal that the Obama administration is currently negotiating with the Iranian government.

On Thursday Corker introduced an amendment that would give Congress the right to hold a “vote of disapproval” on a U.S.-Iran deal over Iran’s nuclear program within days of the Obama administration striking such a deal. The amendment would also provide for Congress to hold hearings on a deal. It would not carry the force of law, but would express the opinion of Congress on the matter.

Corker intends to offer the amendment during next Tuesday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on a bill addressing the security relationship between the U.S. and Israel. Corker spoke about his effort in an exclusive interview with The Daily Beast.

“Let’s face it, Congress has been totally iced out on this issue since its inception. I cannot imagine an issue that’s more important to Israel than these negotiations with Iran over nuclear weapons,” Corker said. “Hopefully many Democrats would agree that we should at least have an opportunity to weigh in on the final agreement… after its negotiated."

The Senate previously tried to move legislation asserting their authority to approve or disapprove of the Obama administration’s potential deal with Iran earlier this year. A bipartisan group of senators pushed legislation that would have set out Congress’s preferred terms for a final deal and would have provided for sanctions if Iran failed to make a deal and stick to it.

Under severe pressure from the Obama administration, key Democrats and lobbying groups including AIPAC backed off the push for the bill and it never came to a floor vote.

Corker says his new idea should be more palatable because it only provides for hearings and a vote, without dictating final terms of the negotiations or levying new sanctions. He did not know how the Obama administration or Senate Democrats will respond.

“We’re not adding any sanctions, we’re not involving ourselves in the negotiations, we just want to be able to weigh in on it. So it doesn’t impede their ability to negotiate,” Corker said. “This is the only opportunity for Congress to have an opportunity to weigh in on the negotiations.”

Corker, along with many others in Congress, believe that a final deal with Iran must include some dismantlement of their centrifuge infrastructure. Senators from both parties are also urging the administration not to allow Iran to continue enriching uranium.

“Many of us are worried that after having all those successes that this moment is getting frittered away and we are going to end up with an arrangement that doesn’t solve this problem,” Corker said.

Congress earned its right to judge any Iran deal because of its large role in the building of the sanctions regime that brought Iran to the negotiating table, said Corker, despite what many administration officials are saying now.

"We wouldn't be where we are today without some of Congress's actions, so I think Congress should be able to weigh in on the end product."

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In 2007, when the George W. Bush administration was negotiating a status of forces agreement with Iraq, several Senate Democrats proposed a similar measure that would have insisted on Congressional oversight of that deal. Among the Senators who co-sponsored that bill were Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the current chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as well as then Senator Barack Obama.