The top-ranking Republican in Congress privately acknowledged this weekend that his party doesn’t have enough votes to overcome a veto of any resolution disapproving the nuclear-weapons deal President Barack Obama hopes to reach with Iran.
Speaking at an off-the-record event Saturday at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s meeting in Las Vegas, House Speaker John Boehner told the audience that he didn’t expect that more than two-thirds of Congress would vote to overturn a veto from Obama if Congress voted against a nuclear deal, according to four people who were inside the room for the private talk.
The resolution of disapproval is provided for in legislation before the Senate this week, known as the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. The deadline for reaching a final nuclear accord between Iran, the U.S. and five other world powers is June 30.
Proponents of the legislation, such as Republican co-author Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, say the bill gives Congress a chance to review an Iran agreement and could stop Obama from lifting sanctions during the review process. Critics, however, want to strengthen the bill’s mechanisms and lower the threshold necessary for Congress to disapprove the deal. Their hope is to be able to ultimately stop Obama from at least lifting those sanctions created by Congress, as opposed to the ones created through executive order or the United Nations Security Council. Boehner’s comments this weekend confirm their suspicions that Corker’s bill is too weak to stop Obama from implementing a bad Iran deal.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, confirmed that the speaker said he did not expect Congress to have the votes to overturn a veto of a resolution to disapprove the Iran deal. “Obviously, it takes only a fraction of the House and Senate Democrats to sustain a veto,” Steel told me. “But it is impossible to say whether they will or not until we know what the final ‘deal' looks like.”
One Republican elected official who attended the Republican Jewish Coalition’s weekend event told me many attendees were disappointed in Boehner’s prediction. “It seems like Congress can’t do anything to stop Obama’s Iran deal,” the official said. Others who went to the Boehner event expressed a similar concern to me as well.
Several Republican politicians in Las Vegas weekend were also wary of the Iran negotiations. Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas who may seek the presidency, told the audience that the agreement being negotiated “doesn’t limit Iran’s nuclear program, it legitimizes it.” Sen, Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who announced this month that he was running for president, pledged: “I will do everything humanly possible to stop a bad Iran deal.”
Cruz is one of a handful of Republican senators who this week will offer amendments to toughen Corker’s bill, which they say was weakened in order to gain bipartisan support. One Cruz amendment would change the bill so that Congress would have to approve an Iran deal, instead of requiring a separate vote for disapproval.
Other Republican senators expected to offer amendments include Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton and James Risch. Their measures would also require such things as mandating Obama certify that Iran recognizes Israel’s right to exist, has released four Americans now held captive and is no longer supporting terrorist organizations.
Corker’s current draft requires “reports” on these matters, but the amendments would make such certifications a prerequisite before Congress would begin review of a nuclear agreement. The real-world effect would be stopping Obama from lifting any Congressional sanctions until Iran meets these requirements.
Corker and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, who has hinted he may also run for president, are expected to oppose all those amendments. The amendments are also opposed by Washington’s largest pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed Corker Iran-deal review bill unanimously two weeks ago. But that bipartisan vote masked a divergence within the Republican Party. When the Senate begins debate again on Tuesday, the divide among Republicans over how to stop Obama’s Iran deal will become a matter of public record.
Eli Lake is a Bloomberg View columnist who writes about politics and foreign affairs.