- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Congress will get 60 days to review the Iran nuclear agreement, and it’s no sure thing lawmakers will accept the deal the administration struck — though President Obama will still likely get his way in the end.

Republicans are overwhelmingly opposed, and many Democrats viewed the deal skeptically, doubting both the terms of the agreement and Iran’s willingness to follow through. But Mr. Obama only needs to convince a minority of lawmakers to back him in order to sustain a veto and preserve the outlines of his plan.

Administration officials said that’s an easy bar to reach for them.

“So we’re confident in our ability to get the support necessary to ensure the successful implementation of the deal,” a senior official told reporters in detailing the deal, which the U.S. and five other countries reached with Iran, lifting sanctions on the Islamic Republic in exchange for a short-term freeze in Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions.

The votes, when they do happen, are likely to be some of the most watched of the decade, with analysts saying they will set the tone for nuclear proliferation talks and Middle East security for years to come.

Congress earlier this year created a special process for reviewing the deal: Once all documents are submitted, lawmakers will have 60 days to consider it and vote on whether to approve it or not. If Congress passes a disapproval, it would go to the White House, where Mr. Obama would veto it, and then both chambers would have to override him in order to stop the deal.

Both the House and Senate will hold hearings this month exploring the deal, with votes likely to come in September, after Congress’s summer vacation.

Rep. Brad Sherman, a senior Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said it’s doubtful Congress can muster the two-thirds vote needed in each chamber to stop the deal.

“We’ll have a resolution of disapproval. It will pass. It’ll be vetoed. The veto is likely to be sustained. I think it will be sustained,” he said. “So we reach the same position, which is Congress declares that it doesn’t like the agreement, doesn’t approve the agreement. We simply do so in the weakest and most pitiful way — the final vote being a victory for those who support the agreement when we don’t get two-thirds to override.”

Criticism of the deal came from all sides.

“Based on what I know, I’m highly skeptical, at best,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner.

Supporters were tougher to find, though some came forward. Most common, however, were lawmakers who pleaded for time to read the deal and all of the classified annexes.

“I supported legislation ensuring that Congress would have time and space to review the deal, and now we must use it well,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, who, as the likely next Senate Democratic leader, will have an influential voice. “Supporting or opposing this agreement is not a decision to be made lightly, and I plan to carefully study the agreement before making an informed decision.”

Mr. Obama’s best chance of prevailing will come in the House, where 150 Democrats signed a letter in May backing the president’s approach to Iran.

On Tuesday, many Democrats said they saw their choice as one between backing Mr. Obama or going to war with the Islamic Republic.

“War is almost never the right answer to any question, but it is always an option,” said Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat. “Skeptics and critics need to give this a chance to work because the consequences are so high, and the prospects for a peaceful resolution of Iran’s nuclear ambitions are fragile.”

He said if Iran backslides, war could still be an option in the future.

But Republicans countered that Mr. Obama had a stronger hand to play and could have held out for a stricter deal with more verification and inspections, and that rolled Iran’s nuclear program back rather than halting it.

“It’s certainly not the time for more tired, obviously untrue talking points about the choice here being between a bad deal and war,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

He said the question facing Congress is whether it’s appropriate to withdraw most of the sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy and brought its leaders to the bargaining table in the first place.

“We want to work collaboratively with the president to advance that goal, but if we have to work against a bad agreement to do so — a flawed deal that threatens our country and our allies — we will,” he said.

The list of objections was extensive.

Many lawmakers said the deal didn’t include the return of several Americans being detained by Iran on questionable grounds. The deal does, however, include eventually lifting sanctions on conventional arms flowing to Iran — something that the administration had promised wouldn’t be coupled with the nuclear deal.

“The president staked his reputation on this fool’s errand, and I predicted all along that they would cave in to whatever it was at the end. The Iranians came up right at the end [and said] lift the conventional arms embargo, it has nothing to do with nuclear weapons. And guess what?” said Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “The president and [Secretary of State John F.] Kerry wanted it so desperately that the Iranians very adroitly threw it in at the end as a reason not to make progress. So they caved. Surprise, surprise.”

Mr. Obama’s backers, though, said the U.S. had little choice. Fellow negotiators were looking to reach a deal, and American demands would likely have broken up the coalition and undermined the sanctions anyway, leaving Iran with all the benefits and no restrictions.

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