Corker Bill Goes Forward Despite Deal-Killing Efforts

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Corker Bill Goes Forward Despite Deal-Killing Efforts

Corker Bill Goes Forward Despite Deal-Killing Efforts

May 4, 2015

The Senate is expected to move toward voting on legislation put forward by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) that would allow Congress a greater role in approving the international agreement being negotiated by the United States and its P5+1 partners with Iran. Previous iterations of the contentious bill contained provisions that would have placed impossible expectations on the deal, including on issues outside the scope of the negotiations, but a compromise brokered by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) stripped those provisions. The compromise has allowed bipartisan support for the bill to coalesce and the Obama Administration says it will not veto it if it passes in its current form. That hasn’t stopped dead-ender conservatives including Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) from trying to attach deal-killing amendments to the bill that would undermine its bipartisan support. Their efforts, which have been stymied by congressional leadership, have reinforced the fact that these Senators are catering to extreme anti-diplomacy voices and pushing destructive policies that are opposed by the U.S. Congress and the American public.

Sens. Cotton and Rubio have made clear that they are out of touch with Congress and the American public.

Their rogue action in Congress reaffirms that they are political extremists willing to derail a bipartisan agreement in their efforts to collapse international negotiations with Iran. Despite congressional leaders encouraging their colleagues to preserve the compromise brokered by Sen. Cardin to generate broader Democratic support for the bill, Sens. Cotton and Rubio have forced consideration of “poison pill” amendments. These would place unreasonable conditions on a nuclear agreement outside the scope of negotiations and would unravel the bipartisan support for the Corker bill. Both have been outspoken in their opposition to any negotiated settlement to Iran’s nuclear program: Sen. Cotton has been particularly theatrical in his efforts to derail the talks, which he said in January “isn’t an unintended consequence of congressional action. It is very much an intended consequence, a feature, not a bug, so to speak.” Sen. Rubio has also opposed the framework agreement and said that, if elected president, he would revoke the deal. “It won’t survive this president,” he said in March. [Tom Cotton, 1/13/15. Marco Rubio, 3/24/15]

Their efforts to prevent a deal with Iran that would keep Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon show they are out of touch with the American public. A new Quinnipiac University poll found that 77% of American voters prefer a negotiated settlement with Iran to military intervention. The poll showed that most of the voting public is skeptical of whether or not an international agreement with Iran would be effective, but a strong majority supports the announced framework, with only 33% of Americans saying it’s not strong enough. Summing up the results, Tim Malloy, Assistant Director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said that it’s “Better to sit down and negotiate than to flex muscle and isolate. Americans are worried about Iran, but not enough to send in the troops.” Sens. Cotton and Rubio’s opposition to the negotiations places them in a fringe minority in national opinion. [Quinnipiac University Poll, 4/27/15]

The Corker bill remains problematic, but the bipartisan compromise has removed the provisions of the bill that would be most damaging to the talks. The deal reached to make the bill more palatable to Democrats and the Administration shortened the period of congressional review of a deal and dropped the requirement that the Administration certify Iran was not supporting acts of terrorism. This would have given Iranian proxies like Hezbollah veto power over an international agreement. As Col. Richard Klass (Ret.), Board Member of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, wrote recently, “Of course Iran’s support for terrorism is deplorable. But adding extraneous provisions, no matter how important, is a poison pill. This provision also gives Iranian-backed terror groups such as Hezbollah or hardliners in Tehran the power to derail this deal simply by ordering some kind of terror attack. If that happens, and even if Iran is in full compliance with the nuclear deal, the Corker bill allows Congress to re-impose sanctions already lifted. At that point, the agreement is dead.” Press Secretary Josh Earnest and Secretary of State John Kerry have said they can work with the Corker bill as it stands now. [Richard Klass, 4/11/15]

If the legislation passes, Congress will own the responsibility for ensuring a deal doesn’t fail with a vote of disapproval – it’s time for Congress to start supporting diplomacy. With this legislation, Congress is taking a risk in order to reaffirm a role it already has in order to state its concerns about a potential agreement. If it passes the bill, Congress will be accepting responsibility for the failure of an agreement if it votes its disapproval this summer. Bill Kristol, writing in the Weekly Standard, points to Russia’s recent decision to lift the ban on S-300 missiles as “the first concrete consequence of the Iran deal.” But what this really indicates is that the sanctions regime that has brought Iran to the table is fracturing already, months before an agreement, and will continue to fall apart with or without a deal. Legislators must decide whether or not they will seize this moment to ensure Iran cannot obtain a weapon. Opponents of an agreement, including Kristol and billionaire political financier Sheldon Adelson, will try anything to prevent a deal. Kristol writes that “there are many other avenues of opposition, obstruction, and delay that Congress can take. All should be explored.” These obstructionists are cavalier about the consequences of their actions, which would lead the United States into a war. Both Sen. Cotton and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) have suggested that a U.S. war against Iran would take a matter of days – this is simply untrue and stands against the wisdom of U.S. military leaders. As Adm. Mike Mullen (Ret.), former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote last week, “As of today, there is no more credible path of reducing the likelihood of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon than this potential deal. Those who say the risks are too high with the current deal offer no constructive path forward save the high potential for war.” It’s time for Congress to start supporting U.S. diplomacy before the sanctions regime fractures and hawks lead us blithely into another war in the Middle East. [Bill Kristol via Weekly Standard4/15. Mike Mullen via Politico4/16/15]

Senator Corker presiding over Senate Foreign Relations Committee business meeting discussing the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 (1. S. 615). [SFRC, 4/19/15]

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