WASHINGTON -- The top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is admitting that the GOP push to attach Iran sanctions to a veterans benefits bill will not succeed.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) are leading the effort to pass new Iran sanctions, even though the White House has warned that such a move could make war more likely.
The Obama administration has little to worry about, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) suggested Wednesday.
"It doesn't look to me like we're going to get a vote," Corker told several reporters on Capitol Hill.
Many Democrats have signaled support for new sanctions, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) backed away from taking a vote, deferring to White House concerns that it could harm ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran. Reid has criticized the Republican attempt to force a vote on sanctions as politicizing the issue. Besides the veterans bill, GOP senators tried earlier in the week to attach sanctions to measures aimed at curbing sexual assault in the military.
Corker declined to criticize that effort, saying the matter needs to be debated, but he offered no endorsement of his colleagues' specific tactic.
"I think Congress weighing in strongly, in some form or fashion, on the biggest foreign policy issue we have underway right now kind of makes sense. It's kind of what you do when you're in the United States Senate," Corker said. "Whether it's exactly this piece of legislation or whether it's something else, I think it makes sense for Congress to weigh in."
The key goal, he suggested, is to make clear what will trigger tougher U.S. sanctions should Iran continue to develop nuclear weapons capabilities.
"I think there are very legitimate concerns about the sanctions dissipating, and you never end up with a deal and have a series of rolling agreements," Corker said. "To us, the most important element is to define what the end has to be," he added. "As their economy begins to recover, which it is ... we're going to lose the traction that we have on this issue."
Last month Corker supported delaying a sanctions vote until summer, giving six months for the Obama administration's efforts to play out.
For Burr, the top Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, linking Iran sanctions to the veterans benefits bill makes sense because Republicans see few other chances to work their will on legislation.
"Leader Reid, before we left last year, stood on the Senate floor and said we will vote on Iran sanctions as soon as we come back. ... How long do we wait?" Burr told reporters Wednesday. "What Leader Reid is likely to do is take all votes and push them past the November election."
And that, Burr said, was not something the United States or its allies could afford with Iran.
"Three or four months can make huge differences as it relates to who our friends are around the world," Burr said. "They're out shopping for new friends because they look at our actions on Iran and think that we've taken our eye off the ball, and we're not concerned with what is their greatest threat."
Burr noted another advantage to tying Iran sanctions to the veterans measure: The latter might actually pass.
"It happens to be a vehicle that might leave the United States Senate, and therefore it is an appropriate vehicle," he said.
Reid later slammed the GOP move, reading from a letter signed by veterans groups critical of linking Iran to their bill. He said all the Republicans were interested in doing was playing political games.
"What are we doing here today? Nothing," Reid said. "It is a waste of time. And why are they doing that? Because they don't want to legislate."
Corker was more charitable about the sanctions push, even though he saw no chance of success. "For Congress to weigh in, in some way, and at least define the end state, what we think is acceptable, in some form or fashion, I think that's probably helpful to the process," he said.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.