Iran nuclear deal survives vote in Congress

Erica Werner
Associated Press

Washington — Senate Democrats voted to uphold the hard-fought nuclear accord with Iran on Thursday, overcoming ferocious GOP opposition and delivering President Barack Obama a legacy-making victory on his top foreign policy priority.

A disapproval resolution for the agreement fell two votes short of the 60 needed to move forward as most Democratic and independent senators banded together against it.

Although House Republicans continued to pursue eleventh-hour strategies to derail the international accord and Senate Republicans promised a re-vote, Thursday’s outcome all but guaranteed that the disapproval legislation would not reach Obama’s desk.

As a result the nuclear deal will move forward unchecked by Congress, an improbable win by Obama in the face of unanimous opposition from Republicans who control Capitol Hill and the state of Israel and its allied lobbyists in the U.S.

Beginning next week, Obama will be free to start scaling back U.S. sanctions to implement the agreement negotiated by Iran, the U.S. and five other world powers. The accord aims to constrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for hundreds of billions of dollars in relief from sanctions.

“This vote is a victory for diplomacy, for American national security and for the safety and security of the world,” the president said in a statement. “Going forward, we will turn to the critical work of implementing and verifying this deal so that Iran cannot pursue a nuclear weapon.”

Frustrated Republicans railed against Democrats for using a procedural vote to block final passage of the disapproval resolution, and issued grim warnings about a deal they contend could serve only to enrich Tehran and leave it closer to building a bomb when constraints begin to ease in 10 or 15 years. They promised that Thursday’s vote would not be the Senate’s last word, and moments after it was over Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell set the stage for another next week.

“No amount of saying this issue is over makes it over,” McConnell declared, adding that if a Republican wins the White House next year, “I say to Iranian observers of the debate, (the deal) will be looked on anew.”

In the House, Republicans had not given up on blocking the deal against all odds. After backtracking on plans to vote on the disapproval resolution when it began to look short of support in the Senate, House Republicans lined up votes on several related measures.

Late Thursday they agreed on a party-line 245-186 vote to a measure specifying that Obama had not properly submitted all documents related to the accord for Congress’ review, and therefore a 60-day review clock had not really started.

That will be followed Friday by votes on a bill to approve the accord — which is doomed to fail, but Republicans want to force Democrats to go on record in favor of the agreement — and on a measure preventing Obama from lifting congressionally mandated sanctions on Iran.