WASHINGTON -- Members of Congress said they remained unconvinced after Secretary of State John Kerry and other administration officials on Monday briefed them on nuclear negotiations with Iran.
“My serious concerns about this deal with Iran have only been reinforced,” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said after the hourlong briefing for all House members by Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.
“I would say they would have been more persuasive to have been more factual and objective rather than have a hard sell kind of mode,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the House Armed Service Committee. He said Kerry’s resistance to a bill proposed by Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), which would ensure Congress votes on the final deal with Iran, gave some lawmakers an uneasy feeling.
“Resistance to the Corker bill increases suspicion in Congress," Thornberry said. "They don’t want us to look at it too closely.”
Kerry said before the briefing that he hoped Congress would “listen carefully” to what he and his fellow cabinet secretaries said about the draft framework Iran agreed to two weeks ago. He said he hoped Congress would “give [the administration] the space and the time to be able to complete a very difficult task that has high stakes for our country.”
Lawmakers said they were far from convinced by the administration's pitch -- especially the push for Congress to "back off."
Republicans overwhelmingly oppose the framework agreement, arguing Congress should have a say on any final deal. Corker said Monday he believes his bill to require congressional approval can withstand a threatened presidential veto. The bill also would prevent President Barack Obama from easing economic sanctions on Iran for two months while Congress reviews the nuclear agreement.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said he would bring similar legislation to the House floor if Corker’s bill passes the Senate, and expressed optimism for a veto-proof majority in both chambers.
That would require the support of a significant number of Democrats, putting pressure on the administration to sell the details of the draft nuclear deal.
Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) will be the kind moderate Democrat the White House will need to convince.
But after Monday’s briefing, Lipinski said Kerry said nothing to alleviate his concerns, and hinted that he could back a bill like Corker’s.
“I lean towards supporting it, but haven’t made up my mind yet,” Lipinski said.
Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), a top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, are among others who have expressed deep skepticism with the deal.
On the other hand, Obama does have important support from key Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.). Becerra said he wants Congress to withhold voting on any legislation until after a final nuclear deal is reached.
“Congress is going to have its say," Becerra said. "Congress has constitutional responsibility to do oversight and we should do it as best we can. I don’t think that we should undermine our ability to try to reach an agreement that can help preserve peace.”
Becerra added that it would “be difficult” for him to support a bill like Corker’s that has Congress “casting votes before we know what the agreement looks like.”
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