- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 9, 2015

House Republicans will attempt a last-ditch effort to derail the Iran nuclear agreement by asserting President Obama has withheld key details of the deal from Congress, meaning the 60-day period for Capitol Hill’s review hasn’t even begun, GOP lawmakers said Wednesday.

The move could create a legal hurdle for President Obama, who argues he has power to move ahead with lifting U.S. sanctions on Iran as of Sept. 17, when he deems the clock runs out on Congress’ review period.

“Many of us feel this is a deeply flawed agreement. We think it’s going to endanger our national security, we think it’s going to endanger the security of our friends and allies in the region, and we’re just looking for any way that we can to derail this agreement,” said Rep. Chris Stewart, Utah Republican, emerging from a closed-door meeting of the House GOP where details were being hashed out.

Republicans said they expect a series of votes this week, including one to officially put the House on record declaring it hasn’t gotten all of the nuclear deal documents, and another to direct Mr. Obama not to lift sanctions until January, giving all sides a chance to work out the problems.

The move marked a stunning reversal for House Speaker John A. Boehner and his top lieutenants, and caught Senate GOP leaders flat-footed.

Republican leaders in the upper chamber said they were moving ahead with their own debate on a resolution disapproving the nuclear deal, saying that while they agreed Mr. Obama had withheld documents, it didn’t make any sense to get stuck in a procedural fight over that.

“Let’s face it — we don’t have all the documents,” Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters, but said the outcome would be the same even if the other documents were submitted to Congress.

He said it made more sense for both the House and Senate to vote, as previously settled, on resolutions disapproving the Iran deal, putting Congress on record as opposed and leaving Mr. Obama to move ahead without political cover from Capitol Hill.

“The clock ends on Sept. 17. The president’s going to go ahead and begin lifting sanctions,” the Tennessee Republican said.

Under the deal Mr. Obama and other international leaders struck in July, Iran will curtail its nuclear program, reduce its enrichment activities and open facilities up to monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency. In exchange, major world powers agreed to lift economic sanctions that sapped Iran’s economy and drove its leaders to the bargaining table. Iran would also gain access to tens of billions of dollars of its money that has been frozen in foreign banks.

The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, passed earlier this year, gives Congress 60 days after the deal is submitted to Capitol Hill to reject it, or else it takes effect and Mr. Obama can lift sanctions. If Congress does vote to reject the deal, Mr. Obama is allowed to veto that rejection, and it would take a two-thirds vote in both chambers to override him and prevent him lifting the sanctions.

Democrats have enough votes to sustain a veto - and as of this week, appear to have enough votes to mount a filibuster to bottle the bill up in the Senate, preventing the president from even having to issue a veto.

Senate Republicans set up a filibuster vote for Thursday or Friday.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Wednesday he won’t entertain any new negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program beyond the July deal struck. He also said America remains the “Great Satan” and predicted Israel won’t exist in 25 years, The Associated Press reported.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been among the most vocal critics of striking a deal with Iran, vowed to foil that prediction.

“This will not happen,” he said while on a visit to London. “Israel is a strong country, and it will become even stronger.”

Israel’s survival was on the minds of many on Capitol Hill as the Senate began its debate in earnest Wednesday.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell kicked off the discussion by pleading for Mr. Obama’s Democratic supporters to keep an open mind as Republicans laid out the case against the deal.

“The president’s deal would leave Iran as a nuclear-threshold state, forever on the edges of developing a nuclear weapon,” the Kentucky Republican said.

Democrats, meanwhile, are caught in a bind, feeling an obligation to support the deal Mr. Obama worked out but needing to find ways to put political distance between themselves and the unpopular agreement.

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said Congress should create a new oversight commission to monitor Iran’s compliance and suggest punishments should any backsliding be detected, and said President Obama should go to the U.N. to seek powers to board Iranian vessels to stop the flow of conventional weapons.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the front-runner for the Democrats’ 2016 presidential nomination, said if she wins the White House, she won’t hesitate to use military force if she decides Iran has broken the deal.

And she and other Democrats floated the idea of a new round of sanctions legislation that would kick in if any backsliding is detected.

But Mr. McConnell dismissed those as efforts at political cover.

“We’ll be happy to take up any bill that legitimately goes after the Iranian regime just as soon as it has enough co-sponsors to override a presidential veto,” he said. “We’ll not be turning the Senate floor into an opportunity for sort of therapeutic get-well exercises on behalf of all the Democrats who ended up voting for this bill, who are going to want to try to deceive their constituents into thinking that ‘It really wasn’t that important; I really am willing to stand up to Iran.’”

Some Republicans have called on Congress to treat the nuclear deal as a treaty, which would mean the Senate would have to muster a two-thirds vote to ratify it, and putting the burden on Mr. Obama, rather than his opponents, to build support.

Mr. McConnell rejected that, saying it was clear this wasn’t a treaty. But he said since it’s not a treaty, the next president can “start all over again” in re-imposing sanctions.

The questions about whether Mr. Obama has submitted all of the agreement documents have swirled since July.

The IAEA struck several side agreements with Iran over how inspections will be carried out, and those became known after the administration assured Congress it had all the documents it needed. The IAEA, however, said its side-deals are always secret and cannot be submitted to Congress.

“This is new information that came after the administration made us an assertion in July that they had complied with the law. The new information made it very obvious they haven’t complied with the law, which is why it’s important for the House to assert that,” said Rep. Peter J. Roskam, an Illinois Republican who’d pressed for the House to challenge the 60-day clock.

For its part, the White House mocked the House GOP’s concerns.

“Sounds like a plan hatched up at Tortilla Coast on a Tuesday night,” said Eric Schultz, a White House spokesman, referring to a popular restaurant near the Capitol.

He said Congress should stick with the process all sides agreed to in the Nuclear Agreement Review Act, and predicted the White House would eventually prevail in those votes.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

• Anjali Shastry can be reached at ashastry@washingtontimes.com.

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