Colorado Democratic U.S. Senator Michael Bennet is taking heat from progressives for supporting a bill on the nuclear talks with Iran that the Republican congress is pushing and President Obama has threatened to veto. Progressives fear the bill will tank the historic deal Obama has been hammering out with Iran and the international community.
Groups like MoveOn.org are furious that Democrats like Bennet seem to be providing cover for the Republican opposition and even planning to cast key votes that could override a presidential veto of the bill.
“We could be starting down the path to a new war in the Middle East — and Democrats are the ones who could tip us over the edge,” wrote MoveOn director Ilya Sheyman in a fundraising email sent out the last two days. “Senator Charles Schumer — a front-runner to replace Harry Reid as the Senate Democratic leader — is supporting a Republican bill that could very well undermine President Obama’s negotiations with Iran. And a small group of Democrats are joining him.”
But Bennet insists his intention is not to undercut the president or any treaty that would curtail Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and ease tensions between the United States and Iran.
“In the coming days I intend to study the proposed agreement carefully,” Bennet told the Colorado Independent in an email. “The details really matter here. This is not a time for politics.”
The Senate bill, sponsored by Bob Corker from Tennessee and Robert Menendez from New Jersey, is still being worked on. In its present form, it would mainly ask the administration to deliver the final text of any deal to Congress for review along with details of the plan on how partners to the treaty would know whether Iran is destroying and not enriching uranium for a weapons program.
Congress would have 60 days to review the agreement. In that time, the president could not lift any of the sanctions on Iran that have been imposed by the legislative branch.
Bennet’s stance matches that of some of the other Democrats who so far support the Corker bill — and who have been the targets of progressives’ abuse.
These Democrats say they support the framework but that it is only a framework, at this point, and they want to see the finalized version of the treaty and, with the Corker bill, firm up the rules that would govern congressional oversight of the treaty so that Congress, the president, the Iranian negotiators and everyone else at the table knows what to expect and when from Capitol Hill.
Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” this week said he thought “a clear set of rules [governing Congress] will help the negotiators” by spelling out exactly when Iran could expect sanctions imposed on the country by Congress to be lifted.
Kaine said he has long anticipated the Iran deal would unfold in phases, that there would be “tollbooths,” as he put it, along the way. He said President Obama could promise to lift U.S. sanctions imposed by the executive branch and sanctions imposed through international agreements and promise that U.S. congressional sanctions would be lifted later — after Congress has had 60 days to review and approve the treaty.
“So the president will have something to give, with the promise of something more.”
The Washington Post did a more in-depth interview with Kaine in which he again affirmed that he supported the framework deal and that his support of the Corker bill is a way of trying to head off the kind of chaos that has characterized this year’s Congress, where partisan poison-pill amendments are added to bills and votes get delayed and stalemates ensue.
“The question is, will we be involved under rules that are structured and deliberate and timely, or will we get involved under free-for-all rules?” Corker told the Post’s Greg Sargent. “[The] Corker-Menendez [bill] gives Congress rules that are defined in terms of procedures and timing, providing certainty that may even help the negotiators in the final phase of the negotiation.”
The Hill noted Tuesday that Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, who took over as a leader on the bill after New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez became tangled in Justice Department corruption charges, said he was working with the White House more closely to make the bill more friendly to the administration.
“What I am trying to make sure is that the legislation we consider is a congressional review and does not prejudge the agreements — that we make sure there’s nothing in this that’s inconsistent with the power of the president to negotiate the strongest possible agreement with Iran,” Cardin told CNN.
Positions on the bill are evolving fast. But, for now, with nine Democratic sponsors lined up, Republican leadership is counting 63 votes. The leaders would need 67 votes to override a presidential veto.