another piece of bipartisan legislation appears ready to cross the finish line after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell moved on Tuesday to end debate. The bill, which is the result of furious negotiations between Bob Corker, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, and Ben Cardin, the committee’s ranking Democrat, would give Congress a month to review any deal the Obama Administration negotiates with Iran and allow Congress the option to pass a “resolution of disapproval” if the terms are unacceptable.
In any normal circumstance this bill wouldn’t be needed. The negotiations with Iran would culminate in a treaty, as the Constitution intended, which would require two-thirds support from the Senate. But this president feels he has no need for the Constitution. Instead, he has worked around a Republican Congress by completely eschewing the legislative process, accomplishing his goals through executive orders, or in this case an executive agreement.
In that context we still must ask the question: Is the Corker-Cardin bill perfect, or even good? No. As critics rightly point out, if Republicans get the majority needed to disapprove of the agreement the president would surely veto it. And it is highly unlikely that opponents could then muster the two-thirds of the House and Senate needed to override that veto. In other words, rather than getting the two-thirds approval needed to pass a treaty, the president only needs one-third support to override a veto. In that sense, this bill is a hurdle for President Obama to jump over, not a wall to stop him from proceeding towards a deal with Iran.
Unfortunately, Congress’ hands are largely tied, especially when it comes to keeping the economic sanctions currently in place. The best they could do is pass a bill to restrain the waiver authority already given to the president, but that too would face the same problem as the Croker-Cardin bill – Democrats would only need 41 votes to filibuster the bill and 34 to sustain Obama’s veto.
But that doesn’t mean that the Corker-Cardin compromise shouldn’t still be seen as an enormous win for Republicans and a huge slap at President Obama. After all, there is a reason that the White House lobbied furiously to kill the bill, even going so far as to issue a veto threat, at least before they realized they were fighting a losing battle. And that’s because the bill requires the administration to send the text of the final deal, along with classified material, to Congress for a vote of disapproval. As the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board writes:
What the Administration most fears is that the bill will require Mr. Obama to submit a nuclear deal, in all of its detail, to a public debate, in which supporters may have to explain its various giveaways. Why, for instance, should Iran get tens of billions of dollars in immediate sanctions relief, which (money being fungible) will immediately be put to use funding missiles for Hezbollah, rockets for Hamas, and barrel bombs for Bashar Assad?
Similar questions will be raised about “snap-back” sanctions that probably won’t snap back without permission from Moscow and Beijing, or an inspections process that allows the Iranians to play the cat-and-mouse games they’ve used for years to deceive U.N. nuclear inspectors. Democrats will also have to reckon with Mr. Obama’s admission that, when the deal expires in 10 or 15 years, Iran’s “nuclear breakout” will be shortened to weeks—far too short to detect, much less prevent by sanctions or military means.
That debate will be an education that will inform voters going into the next election. It will also make a filibuster uncomfortable for Senate Democrats, most of whom have political careers to think about after Mr. Obama leaves office.
President Obama has already made the process of approval more difficult for himself by released a misleading “fact sheet” on the broad agreements already reached with Iran. The sheet contained numerous errors that were clearly designed to make it appear as if they had negotiated a much better deal than they truly had. For instance, the sheet says that the sanctions will be lifted in phases, that restrictions on the enrichment of uranium will be for 15 years, that inspectors will have access to all sites, and that the development of advanced centrifuges at Fordo will stop, all of which are disputed by Iran. If any of those are not included in the final agreement, President Obama will have some serious explaining to do if the Corker-Cardin bill passes.
Importantly, the bill also requires the president to give Congress an assessment every 90 days on whether Iran is complying with the nuclear agreement along with periodic reports on Iran’s ballistic missile work and terrorist activities. Those reports will create an opportunity, where none currently exists, for Congressional Republicans (and hopefully a future Republican president) to reimpose sanctions if something goes wrong.
“We ought to complete this legislation,” Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said on the Senate floor. “This place has changed a lot from the Harry Reid days. We ought to get stuff done.”
And although the Corker-Cardin bill is far from perfect, it’s something that ought to get done if for no other reason than it’s better than nothing.