The Republican Senate caucus is planning to use every parliamentary trick in the book to push Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to allow a floor vote on a new Iran sanctions bill that the Obama administration strenuously opposes.
The Obama White House has succeeded in keeping most Democrats in line against supporting quick passage of the “Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act,” which currently has 59 co-sponsors, including 13 Democrats. Reid has faithfully shelved the bill, pending the outcome of negotiations between Iran and the world’s major powers—the so-called “P5+1.”
But tomorrow, Republicans plan to respond by using an array of floor tactics—including bringing up the bill and forcing Reid to publicly oppose it—as a means of putting public pressure on Reid and Democrats who may be on the fence.
“Now we have come to a crossroads. Will the Senate allow Iran to keep its illicit nuclear infrastructure in place, rebuild its teetering economy and ultimately develop nuclear weapons at some point in the future?” 42 GOP senators wrote in a letter sent to Reid late Wednesday and obtained by The Daily Beast. “The answer to this question will be determined by whether you allow a vote on S. 1881, the bipartisan Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act, which is cosponsored by more than half of the Senate.”
The GOP letter calls on Reid to allow a vote on the bill during the current Senate work period—in other words, before the chamber’s next recess. Senate GOP aides said that until they get a vote, GOP senators are planning to use a number of procedural tools at their disposal to keep this issue front and center for Democrats. Since the legislation is already on the Senate’s legislative calendar, any senator can bring up the bill for a vote at any time and force Democrats to publicly object.
Senators can also try attaching the bill as an amendment to future bills under consideration. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been a harsh critic of Reid’s shelving of the bill, so he could demand a vote on it as a condition of moving any other legislation.
If those amendments are blocked by Reid, Senators can then go to the floor and make speech after speech calling out Reid for ignoring a bill supported by 59 senators—and calling on fence-sitting Democrats to declare their position on the bill.
“This letter is a final warning to Harry Reid that if Democrats want to block this bipartisan legislation, they will own the results of this foreign policy disaster,” one senior GOP senate aide said.
The Republican senators believe, based on recent polls, that the majority of Americans support moving forward with the Iran sanctions bill now. They also believe that if Reid did allow a vote, the bill would garner more than the 59 votes of its co-sponsors and that Democrats vulnerable in 2014 races would support it, pushing the vote total past a veto-proof two-thirds supermajority.
“I stand with the majority of Americans who want Iran’s illicit nuclear infrastructure dismantled before economic sanctions are lifted,” Sen. Mark Kirk, one of the bill’s sponsors, told The Daily Beast. “The American people deserve a vote on the bipartisan Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act.”
Besides McConnell and Kirk, other senators prepared to lead the effort to demand a vote on the bill include Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham.
The bill would do three things: reimpose existing sanctions suspended under the interim agreement if Iran cheats on its commitments; ensure that a final agreement must require Iran to dismantle its illicit nuclear infrastructure; and threaten to impose additional economic sanctions in the future should Iran cheat on its commitments or fail to agree to a final deal that dismantles its nuclear infrastructure.
Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria (Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria) that Iran would never dismantle centrifuges under any circumstances. Iran’s top nuclear negotiator said last month that interim steps Iran has taken to curtail its nuclear activities could be reversed within one day.
During his State of the Union address last month, President Obama pledged to veto the bill if it reached his desk. Speaking with CNN’s Jake Tapper Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry urged the senate not to pass the measure.
“I believe it’s a mistake now to break faith with a negotiating process when you’re in the middle of the process. The United States of America agreed, together with our P5+1 allies, with Russia, China, France, Great Britain, Germany, all of them agreed that during the time we’re negotiating, we would not increase sanctions,” said Kerry. “Now, our word has to mean something, too. If we’re going to negotiate, we don’t want to be responsible for now creating a dynamic where we destroy the negotiations… so they can blame us for not getting there.”