- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 23, 2015

Even strong bipartisan disapproval by Congress of the Iranian nuclear deal won’t stop President Obama from implementing the agreement, so the vote next month is shaping up as a warning to Europe against resuming business with Tehran before the next U.S. president is elected.

On his Senate website though, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid on Sunday became the highest-profile Democrat to endorse the deal and added that he would attempt to sway other members of his party.

Regardless of Mr. Reid’s vote, clear bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate are lining up against the deal. Even so, Mr. Obama has broad executive authority to ease many sanctions on Iran by himself, analysts say.

“He’s got enormous power to basically circumvent Congress,” said Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a critic of the agreement. “He always had in mind a plan that would not require congressional approval. It couldn’t be stopped, the way the administration has structured this.”

Acting on his own, Mr. Obama can delist Iranian banks, commercial entities and individuals targeted for sanctions. He can order the Treasury Department to give out licenses allowing financial and commercial transactions with Iranian businesses.

The president also could provide sanctions relief for Iranian oil exports by treating legislation passed by Congress in 2012 as unconstitutional.

Section 1245 of the National Defense Authorization Act required the president to freeze assets of Iranian banks, including the Central Bank of Iran, and aimed to reduce Iranian oil revenue by imposing sanctions on foreign banks that carry out “significant financial transactions” with the central bank.

But Mr. Obama issued a “signing statement” on Section 1245 when he approved the overall legislation, stating that he could treat that section as nonbinding because it “would interfere with my constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations.”

“He would challenge Republicans to fight him in the courts,” Mr. Dubowitz said. “He would essentially just circumvent that statutory designation and provide significant sanctions relief.”

Mr. Obama, who returned to Washington on Sunday after a two-week vacation, will continue to make his case for the Iranian deal Friday when he addresses Jewish organizations and takes questions in a webcast. The event is sponsored by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Jewish Federations of North America.

In addition to Mr. Reid, the White House picked up the support of Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, after Mr. Obama wrote a letter to the lawmaker offering specific assurances that the U.S. would “take whatever means are necessary” to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, including possible military action.

“As I have repeatedly emphasized, my administration will take whatever means are necessary to achieve that goal, including military means,” Mr. Obama wrote. “Should Iran seek to dash toward a nuclear weapon, all of the options available to the United States — including the military option — will remain available through the life of the deal and beyond.”

Mr. Nadler said Friday that the deal, “for all its flaws,” offers “the best chance of stopping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.”

Mr. Reid made a similar argument, saying of the deal that it is “the best path to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” and “I have not heard any thoughtful individual argue that this deal is perfect.”

He echoed the Obama administration’s presentation of the deal as a fait accompli and said “critics of the agreement failed to articulate a viable alternative.”

“It is fantasy to say that if Congress rejects the agreement, the Administration can simply go back and get a better agreement. If the Senate rejects this agreement, the international community will not support an attempt to secure another, and they will not support the sanctions regime. Those are hard facts. Whether we like it or not, the current sanctions regime depends on other countries,” the Nevada Democrat said.

While the president was on vacation, more lawmakers announced which way they will vote when Congress takes up the Iran agreement in mid-September.

So far, 29 senators, including two Democrats — Charles E. Schumer of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey — are voting against the agreement. Twenty-six senators are supporting it, with 45 uncommitted, but it’s almost a certainty that all 54 Republican senators will vote against the deal.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, said last week that she would support the deal because “it is more dangerous to Israel, America and our allies to walk away in the face of unified worldwide support.”

In the House, 225 lawmakers — including 16 Democrats — have announced that they would vote against the deal, according to a tally compiled by the Bipartisan Policy Center. There are 69 House lawmakers in favor of the deal so far, and 140 are uncommitted.

Rep. Donald Norcross, New Jersey Democrat whose district includes a sizable Jewish community, said he would vote against the agreement.

“I do believe that a better deal can be achieved,” Mr. Norcross said. “We have not exhausted all efforts.”

Despite the opposition, lawmakers would need to muster a two-thirds majority vote in the House and the Senate to override Mr. Obama’s expected veto of the Iran resolution.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, has said a veto override is unlikely.

But the ultimate size of the vote against the agreement will influence European governments and industries about the prospects of U.S. policymakers seeking a tougher deal after Mr. Obama leaves office, Mr. Dubowitz said. Iranians view Europe as the key to their economic recovery.

“There’s going to be a bipartisan vote of disapproval for this deal,” Mr. Dubowitz said. “Sixty percent of the U.S. Congress on a bipartisan basis is going to vote this deal down. The president will go forward with this deal anyway, regardless of how many people vote it down. But he’s gone in 18 months. So the question is how to deter Europeans from rushing back in too quickly.”

European leaders and business chiefs “would be reticent to rush back in if there was a resounding vote of disapproval,” he said.

“They would want to know what the next president is going to do before they found themselves on the wrong end of an enforcement action,” he said. “If you’re a financial institution or a major industrial company, you’re going to be cautious about going back in too quickly, sinking hundreds of millions of dollars into projects and then finding yourself in January 2017 with a new president with a vastly different view of the world from Obama.”


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