POLITICS

Now Even AIPAC Says It's Not The Right Time To Advance Iran Sanctions Bill

02/06/2014 08:51 pm ET | Updated Feb 07, 2014

WASHINGTON -- American Israel Public Affairs Committee changed course on Thursday, coming out against an immediate Senate vote on new Iran sanctions, according to a statement obtained by The Hill.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and author of the predominantly Republican-backed sanctions bill, took to the Senate floor Thursday to encourage his colleagues not to let partisan politics drive a vote on the matter. AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, expressed support for Menendez in a statement several hours later:

AIPAC commends Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) for his strong and eloquent statement on the Senate floor today outlining the threat of Iran's nuclear program and the imperative of dismantling it. We appreciate his commitment to ensure that any agreement with Iran “is verifiable, effective, and prevents them from ever developing even one nuclear weapon.”

We applaud Senator Menendez’s determined leadership on this issue and his authorship with Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) of the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act. We agree with the Chairman that stopping the Iranian nuclear program should rest on bipartisan support and that there should not be a vote at this time on the measure. We remain committed to working with the Administration and the bipartisan leadership in Congress to ensure that the Iran nuclear program is dismantled.

On Thursday, 42 Republican senators sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) demanding an immediate vote on sanctions against Iran, an effort President Barack Obama has threatened to veto amid fragile nuclear negotiations. Menendez later distanced himself from his Republican colleagues on the Senate floor, expressing concern that the discussion has become "a partisan political issue" rather than a sensitive issue of national security.

“I have long thought of this as a bipartisan national security issue -– not a partisan political issue -– and at the end of the day a national security issue that we must approach in a spirit of bipartisanship and unity, which has been the spirit for which we have worked together on this matter," Menendez said. "I hope that we will not find ourselves in a partisan process trying to force a vote on a national security matter before its appropriate time.”

Requests for comment from Kirk, the Republican cosponsor of the bill, and from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who was among those signing the letter pressing for fast action, were not immediately returned.

AIPAC has completely reversed course on the issue. For months, the group had been lobbying lawmakers hard to push the Iran sanctions bill, even launching an attack on one of its biggest allies, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), for not supporting it. Only in recent weeks has AIPAC begun backing off in the face of resistance from the White House and key Democratic lawmakers, including Reid.

"As usual, Republicans overplayed their hand and it backfired," said a Senate Democratic leadership aide.

Jennifer Bendery contributed reporting.

This article has been updated to clarify Menendez's reasons for not wanting to hold a vote.

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