POLITICS

Iran Deal Reached In Senate; White House Hints Its Support

04/14/2015 11:57 am ET | Updated Apr 14, 2015

WASHINGTON -- A tentative deal has been reached by senators on a bill to apply congressional oversight to a nuclear deal with Iran. And early signals from the White House suggest the president will drop his veto threat and sign the measure.

Under the deal, the president would still be required to submit any final agreement before Congress and Congress would continue to have a say over whether he can lift sanctions on Iran in exchange for restrictions on Iran's nuclear program. But the new deal, hammered out between Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, would reduce the time frame the Senate has to consider the lifting of sanctions -- from 60 days to 52 at most -- and would keep demands on Iran limited primarily to its nuclear program and not, for example, against its sponsorship of terrorism.

"The president would be willing to sign the proposed compromise that is working its way through the committee today," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday.

An aide to Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, sent over the details of the new bill:

  • The bill would require the president to submit the final agreement to Congress.
  • Congress will have up to 52 days to review the final agreement. During that time, the president is prohibited from waiving the congressional sanctions during the review period.
  • The 52-day review period is broken down as follows: There is an initial review period of 30 days to review and vote on sanctions relief. An additional 12 days are automatically added if Congress passes a bill and sends it to the president, and an additional 10 days on top of that if the president vetoes the legislation.
  • If the final deal is submitted late, after July 9, the review period reverts to 60 days.
  • The president is required to certify to Congress every 90 days that Iran is complying with the terms of the final agreement.
  • It also requires the president to make a series of detailed reports to Congress on a range of issues, including Iran’s nuclear program, its ballistic missiles work, and its support for terrorism globally, particularly against Americans and our allies. With this information, Congress will be able to determine the appropriate response in the event of Iran sponsoring an act of terrorism against Americans.

The same general details were confirmed by a Democratic aide familiar with talks to modify Corker's bill.

Early reaction among Democrats on the Hill seemed generally positive.

"I oppose the initial version of the bill, but I am encouraged by some developments that are taking place," said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). "I think there is potential for sign-off by the White House on a bill that we can support on a bipartisan basis."

If the new Corker bill goes through, it could dramatically complicate the finalizing of a nuclear deal with Iran. As things stand, a framework for a reduction in Iran's nuclear capacity has been reached but finite details still must be resolved. One particular sticking point is the pace of sanctions relief, with Iran insisting all sanctions be lifted at the onset of the deal, and the United States insisting the framework be built on Iran only getting relief from sanctions once it is verified the country is taking steps to reduce its stockpiles of enriched uranium. A bill from the Senate limiting the pace at which the president can apply sanctions relief could be interpreted as a breach of the framework in Tehran, and could complicate the next few weeks of negotiations.

Corker, however, said he was not convinced that congressional action during the negotiations process would hinder the final outcome.

“We know for a fact that -- this is like, not debatable -- that in Switzerland, as the negotiators were believing that Congress was going to weigh in, the deal got stronger. So, you know, that is a total red herring,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

Democrats likewise seemed unmoved by the administration's pleas (delivered Tuesday directly from Secretary of State John Kerry during a briefing) to give it leeway to turn the framework into something more tangible. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who is serving as the interim ranking member on the foreign relations committee, said he was "confident" the new deal struck by Corker would provide "an orderly way to review the agreements when submitted, and a timing notice in the event there are material breaches so Congress can take action."

Later on Tuesday, the committee will begin the process of marking up the new Corker deal, and it remains to be seen if the final language will remain intact. Several senators could offer amendments, though Corker has control over the process and some of those members have already signaled that they don't want to disrupt a tentative deal.

When asked about an agreement to prevent a vote on some of the more controversial amendments, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) answered, “We will find out if that is a durable agreement when we get to the room. We’ve had lots of agreements in my four years in Senate that once we got to the floor, came unglued.”

“If you look through the dozens of amendments that are on our agenda for today, there are several in there that would pull this bill sharply to the right if adopted,” Coons told reporters on Tuesday. “Given the partisan breakdown of the committee, they easily could be adopted. They could be forced through down a partisan, party-line vote. I’d drop off of it in a second.”

This story has been updated throughout with more information as it has become available.

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