How Senate GOP’s Letter To Iran Sets Back Their Own Cause

March 12, 2015 6:00 a.m.

WASHINGTON — A letter from 47 Republican senators to Iran warning that any deal with the U.S. regarding its nuclear program could be short-lived has endangered GOP hopes of securing a veto-proof majority for legislation to ensure that Congress signs off on any agreement.

In a sign that the gambit is backfiring, numerous Senate Democrats who have sided with Republicans and against President Barack Obama on the issue of Iran have harshly condemned their GOP colleagues over the letter, on which freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) took the lead.

The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, led by Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ), respectively the chairman and ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, would ensure congressional review of any deal with Iran before sanctions can be removed.

It enjoys the support of seven members of the Democratic caucus. Three of those senators — Bill Nelson (D-FL), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Angus King (I-ME) — fiercely criticized the Republican letter. Kaine said earlier this week that the GOP letter raised questions about whether Congress is “mature” enough to deal with national security.

“It has cast a serious pal over an issue that has traditionally been bipartisan. This letter clouds what was already an uncertain outlook for Corker-Menendez,” said a Democratic aide to a senator who supports legislation to ensure Congress signs off on any nuclear deal with Iran.

A separate bill, the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act, sponsored by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), would restrict the president’s ability to waive sanctions on Iran, a key component of the U.S.-Iran negotiations. It currently enjoys the support of 51 senators, including eight Democrats.

One of those Democrats, Sen. Bob Casey (PA), fiercely criticized the GOP letter.

“This is a misguided and reckless attempt to circumvent a sitting U.S. President by going directly to the leader of the Iranian regime – a longtime adversary of the United States,” Casey said. “It is clear that many Americans find it offensive. I’ve spent years working to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapon capability and no one has been tougher on this issue than I. We should be focusing on bipartisan policy, not engaging in partisan theatrics.”

Obama has signaled he’ll veto the bills, warning that they would scuttle an agreement with Iran before one can be reached. (He blasted the letter as a GOP attempt to make “common cause” with Iran’s hardliners.) As a result, the bills would need a veto-proof majority of 67 senators.

Corker, one of seven Republicans who declined to sign the letter, recognized that it may set back his cause, expressing surprise at the momentum it gained.

“I immediately knew that it was not something that, for me anyway, in my particular role, was going to be constructive,” he said this week. “I did not think the letter was something that was going to help get us to an outcome.”

It’s unclear what impact the letter will ultimately have. Supporters of a nuclear deal worry it will embolden Iran’s hardliners by creating the impression that the U.S. cannot be trusted to honor an agreement, which the Obama administration is reportedly closing in on. But it also appears to have set back the cause of ensuring a robust congressional role in the approval of a deal.

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