Three days of Senate speeches and the vote on Thursday related to the Iran nuclear agreement presented perfect examples of why — according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll — 64 percent of adults think the American political system is dysfunctional and 72 percent say most people in politics cannot be trusted.
The whole thing was a charade, defining that word as “something done just for show.”
I will discuss details of the so-called debate later, but suffice it to say that when supporters and opponents of a matter divide the hours, each side presenting its own version of the facts with no interaction between them, it can hardly be called a debate.
In fact, the only real debate in the Senate came on precisely what the chamber was going to vote on — and here is where the belief that our politics are dysfunctional comes from.
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On July 14, the day the deal was signed in Vienna by the United States, its five negotiating partners and Iran, President Barack Obama warned, “I will veto any legislation that prevents the successful implementation of this deal.”
It has been reported since that the White House preferred to avoid having to take that step.
Last Tuesday — before debate began — it became apparent that Democrats had 42 Senate votes in support of the controversial agreement. That provided Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., with enough votes not only to stop Republicans from successfully overriding a presidential veto but also allow Democrats to use a Senate rule that requires 60 votes to block a filibuster, if they wanted to keep debating the nuclear agreement and prevent an up-or-down vote on the measure.
Reid, however, immediately announced that the Democrats did not want to filibuster, as there already was an understanding that a vote would come Thursday. Reid, on the Senate floor, offered a resolution that an up-or-down vote would be on the already-introduced resolution of disapproval of the Iran agreement but would require 60 votes to pass.
There were precedents for requiring a 60-vote supermajority for such national security measures. It was done, for example, with legislation on the controversial foreign intelligence surveillance measure.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., proposed that the vote take place, but without mentioning the 60 votes required for adoption. Reid objected, and in so doing prevented the need for Obama to veto a joint House-Senate resolution disapproving of the Iran agreement, passed with the knowledge Congress could not override the veto.
On Wednesday, McConnell instead introduced a cloture motion, which would end debate and require a vote on the resolution to disapprove of the Iran agreement.
What that parliamentary maneuver did, besides muddying for the public what was going on, was give the Republicans another talking point for the debate. They could accuse Democrats of wanting to filibuster the disapproval resolution in order to prevent an up-or-down vote on it.
When the vote on cloture took place Thursday, there were 58 votes for it — two short of the 60 needed to cut off debate. Another vote on it has been scheduled, but the results are expected to be the same.
In the end, the Senate will probably not vote directly on approval or disapproval of the agreement, and Republicans and Democrats can blame each other for the confusing result.
As for the Senate speeches on the substance of the agreement, they fed the widespread view, as found in the poll, that politicians cannot be trusted.
On the Senate floor, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., said, “The (Iranian) Supreme Leader Ayatollah (Ali) Khamenei has said the Iranian parliament will have the final word on this deal in Iran? I wonder how the senator would characterize a partisan filibuster in the U.S. Senate, preventing such an up-or-down vote in the Senate, while the Iranian parliament would have the ability for that up-or-down vote in that institution.”
In fact, Khamenei said: “I have no recommendation for the Majlis (the Iranian parliament) on how to examine (the agreement) or whether they should ratify or reject it.” So far, the Majlis has done neither.
Then there are statements made by individual members that either are wrong or misleading but were not questioned or contradicted, since most statements are given without interruption.
On Wednesday, Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., referred to the agreement provisions that cut the number of centrifuges Iran could operate to 5,000 and limited them to its earliest IR-1 centrifuges. Lankford said, “They can install 1,000 of their newest technology centrifuges and keep those going.” Lankford also said he believed “this deal in its place takes us closer to a conventional war. Why? Because it allows Iran to begin to almost immediately begin stockpiling conventional weapons.” But the agreement has nothing to do with conventional weapons.
The nuclear agreement limits the Iranians to research only on newer IR-6 and IR-8 centrifuge technologies and after eight years allows the manufacture of only 30 for testing purposes. It does enable Iran to keep 1,000 IR-1s at its Fordow uranium-enrichment facility, but those are not newer-technology centrifuges. Some of the IR-1s will be idle, and the others will be used for producing stable isotopes, not for enriching uranium, according to the agreement.
Is it any surprise that the Post-ABC News poll found that 77 percent of adults with some college education voiced mistrust of most people in politics and almost half strongly see our political system as dysfunctional?
© 2015, The Washington Post