WASHINGTON -- A bill to provide congressional oversight for a nuclear deal with Iran passed unanimously on Tuesday through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and seems destined to become law after the White House expressed support for the measure.
The 19-0 committee vote was unexpected less than 24 hours ago, when the Obama administration was still operating under the assumption that it would veto the measure, and Senate Democrats were cool in their support of it. But several substantive changes made late Monday night helped soften that opposition. The bill now seems poised to have veto-proof majority support when it heads to the full Senate. From there, it must be considered by the House of Representatives before it goes to the president's desk.
“The bottom line is that we were able to homogenize [the White House's] needs, my needs, Senator [Bob] Corker’s needs to get to a common place," Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), interim ranking member of the committee, told reporters after the committee markup.
Under the revised deal, brokered by Cardin and committee chairman Corker (R-Tenn.), the Senate would have a 30-day time frame for reviewing administration requests to ease sanctions on Iran in exchange for Iran hitting benchmarks for limiting its nuclear program. That review period could be extended to 52 days if the Senate says no to the president's request and the president subsequently overrides their no vote with a veto.
For Democrats, however, this concession was worthy enough, as Republicans had previously insisted the review period be 60 days. That 60-day period could still end up being triggered if the United States and international partners require an extension of the June deadline to actually finalize a nuclear agreement with Iran, as they currently have just a framework. Corker's bill would also require the president to certify to Congress every 90 days that Iran is complying with the final agreement. Additionally, it would require the president to issue detailed reports to Congress on the state of Iran's support for terrorism.
Prior to Tuesday morning, that latter provision remained a sticking point, with Republicans pushing that any sanctions relief pursuant to the final deal to be contingent on proof Iran was not sponsoring terrorism. But they dropped this requirement, Hill sources say, after Corker told them they would not be able to get the 67 votes necessary to override a veto with that language still in.
As late as this morning, according to Corker, it wasn't clear if that would be enough. The senator said that in a classified setting, Secretary of State John Kerry was continuing to push "strongly against this legislation." But shortly thereafter, the administration relented in its opposition, perhaps aware it no longer had enough support among its own party members to sustain a veto.
"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.