The only useful aspect of the sucker’s deal on Iran’s nuclear program is that it’s providing a moment of political clarity in Washington. About a dozen Senate Democrats and independents loudly insisted for over a year that they opposed the direction of the administration’s nuclear talks, that they wanted more sanctions, and that Congress should have a say on any deal. Iran hawks, all.
Where are they now? Scrambling to formulate any good excuse to back away from those vows, and to give their lame-duck president a free hand. Only a week ago, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) was but a few votes shy of the 67 he’d need to override a presidential veto of his bill giving Congress review over an Iran deal. The framework now announced, the White House now twisting arms, the votes needed are vanishing.
“Yes, but . . . ” was Maine Sen. Angus King’s response to the question of whether he will still vote for the Corker bill. He’s now not sure bipartisan Republicans can be trusted to implement a bipartisan bill that he, a bipartisan “independent,” co-sponsored. “I’m not in if it’s a partisan weapon,” he said, vaguely.
Sen. Chris Coons (D., Del.), who last year co-sponsored a bill to impose additional sanctions on Iran, explained in December that he felt “no greater responsibility than to ensure that the United States pursues policies that maximize our security interests.” He’s now doing the White House’s bidding, demanding an amendment to the Corker bill (he too is a co-sponsor) releasing the administration from having to certify Iran doesn’t support terrorism.
This is where Democrats will lay the groundwork for defection, in Mr. Corker’s committee markup of the legislation next week. Sen. Chris Murphy (D., Conn.) has unveiled his own White House cover, a separate amendment to allow Mr. Obama to unilaterally roll back sanctions on Iran—regardless of what Congress does. Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.), self-described as one of the “strongest supporters of Israel” and also a co-sponsor of the Corker bill, has announced he will also propose modifications that are “acceptable to the White House.” Sen. Michael Bennett (D., Colo.), another co-sponsor, is also in favor of alterations.
The goal of these amendments is to render the Corker legislation useless. Yet if Republicans balk, watch for Senate Democrats to howl that the GOP is acting in a partisan fashion, or refusing to be flexible. And watch for those same Senate Democrats to then use those complaints as their pretext for voting against the legislation.
It doesn’t help that the bill’s greatest Democratic champion, New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, has virtually gone into hiding after last week’s Justice Department indictment. He has stepped down as ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, diminishing his ability to rally votes. Then again, even Mr. Menendez has been aiding the White House. He pushed to rush out the Corker bill in late February to win plaudits at a big speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac). Those won, he then quickly moved to insist the Corker bill sit idle until the White House finished negotiations.
Mr. Menendez is still expected to play a role in next week’s committee drama; we’ll see where he comes out. And some Democrats, at least for now, are sticking with the legislation. New York’s Chuck Schumer continues to support it, as does Virginia’s Tim Kaine. Though with 67 votes increasingly unlikely—and President Obama winning this battle—the holdouts aren’t quite so noteworthy.
Those Democrats who have now gone wobbly require Mr. Corker to make a choice. The Tennessee chair has bent over backward to keep many of them on board. When Mr. Menendez wanted the bill delayed until negotiations ended, Mr. Corker delayed. When Democrats insisted the bill go through committee, he agreed. When Republicans sent a letter warning Iran that the deal may not hold, infuriating the administration, he refrained from signing it. He has been cordial with the White House.
Yet given the Democratic default to protect President Obama, it appears that Mr. Corker’s only path to 67—if that is even possible—is to so water-down his own bill as to make it useless. Does he want a meaningless 67-vote victory? The better route is to shoot for 60, send a principled bill to the president’s desk, and force the commander in chief and his defenders to solely face the consequences of a bad Iran deal.
The moment would at least be a wake-up call for outside pressure groups like Aipac and others, who also took Democrats at their word. Forced to choose between national security and party loyalty, Democrats are choosing the latter. Iran is the winner.
Source: Kimberley A. Strassel, www.wsj.com