- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Senate Democrats chided GOP leaders Wednesday for bringing American prisoners in Iran into the debate over President Obama’s contentious nuclear deal with the regime in Tehran, charging Republicans were playing politics with anguished families and could upend negotiations to free the four men.

Frustrated by Democratic filibusters of a resolution that rejects the nuclear deal, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he will force tough votes Thursday on whether senators back Iran over Israel and over American prisoners still being held by the Islamic Republic.

The move is designed to put intense political pressure on Democrats, who in turn charged that Republicans were taking the debate into risky territory.

“This notion of making the political prisoners in Iran part of the new Republican strategy is something I wish Senator McConnell had thought about a little bit more,” Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said. “This is not the right thing to do.”

Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, and his top lieutenants said Democrats acted in bad faith by twice denying the chamber an opportunity to have an up-down vote on its resolution to disapprove the deal reached by Mr. Obama and the leaders of Russia, China, Germany, Britain, France and Iran.

They said Senate Democrats put their allegiance to Mr. Obama, who won’t have to use his veto because the disapproval measure couldn’t get 60 votes, ahead of the American people.

“It’s taken on a little Tammy Wynette flavor to me — ‘Stand By Your Man,’” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, said, referring to the 1968 country music hit.

Democrats are likely to continue their filibuster this week, leaving the White House with a free hand to begin the process of lifting sanctions as of Thursday.

Yet polling has been trending negative toward the Iran deal, and Republican lawmakers are eager to make Democratic approval of it as painful as possible ahead of a pivotal election year. That includes votes that pit Democrats’ loyalty to Mr. Obama against support for Israel and Americans being held in Iran.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Michigan Democrat, said the amendment votes will do nothing to help Amir Hekmati, a former Marine from Flint, Michigan, who has been held on Tehran’s accusations of espionage.

“This political stunt by the majority leader does not help bring Amir home. It doesn’t help bring the other three Americans home. It just adds more politics to the situation,” she said.

Mr. Durbin took if further, saying the vote is a risky “showpiece” that could actually make it more difficult to win their release.

“Some of them have been in prison for a long time,” he said. “There no way that Senator McConnell can know, I wouldn’t know, if there are delicate negotiations under way.”

McConnell spokesman Donald Stewart declined to comment on the Democrats’ accusations, saying they aren’t supported with evidence.

Besides Mr. Hekmati, Iran is holding Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, Christian pastor Saeed Abedini and former FBI agent Robert Levinson.

Even Democrats who joined Senate Republicans in rejecting Mr. Obama’s deal have hesitated to back the new amendments, however.

A Democratic aide said Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland feels passing the amendments as conditions for sanctions relief would amount to tacit approval of the deal, when Congress should be focused on disapproving the underlying pact as it relates to Iran’s nuclear program.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said it’s time to move on to other matters, such as making sure the government is open and funded when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

As the White House moves to implement the nuclear pact, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit the White House Nov. 9 and meet with President Obama face to face.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to the United States is a demonstration of the deep and enduring bonds between the United States and Israel,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday’s press briefing.

Mr. Netanyahu has been the chief critic of Mr. Obama’s agreement with Tehran, saying it threatens his nation’s security.

Mr. Earnest confirmed the Iran deal will be a key topic of discussion between the two men.

Ben Wolfgang contributed to this report.

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