Senate Panel Backs Bill To Allow Congressional Review Of Iran Deal
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Something unusual took place on Capitol Hill this afternoon.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: If the clerk would please call the roll.
UNIDENTIFIED CLERK: Mr. Risch.
SENATOR JAMES RISCH: Aye.
UNIDENTIFIED CLERK: Rubio.
SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Aye.
SIEGEL: A unanimous vote by members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - all 19 members, Republicans and Democrats, approved a bill that gives Congress a say over the nuclear weapons agreement being negotiated by Iran, the United States and five other world powers. NPR national security correspondent David Welna is with us to talk about what was agreed on. And David, Congress has been insisting it should have a role in these negotiations. What does this bill do, and what doesn't it do?
DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Well, Robert, the main thing this bill does is it gives Congress a decisive political role in this nuclear negotiation that lawmakers feel they've so far been excluded from. And it does so by forcing President Obama to submit to Congress a final deal with a deadline at the end of June that would be an executive agreement and not a treaty. A treaty would automatically need the approval of two-thirds of the Senate. The bill the committee passed today instructs the president to send Congress all the details of that final deal. And the committee's chairman, Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, explained to his colleagues what would happen next.
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SENATOR BOB CORKER: Then the clock will start. And there will be a period of time that Congress will have the ability to debate and decide whether Congress wants to move ahead with a resolution of approval or a resolution of disapproval. During that time, no congressional-mandated sanctions can be lifted.
WELNA: And that time would be 30 days. And if Congress were to decide to disapprove of this deal, it would effectively blow up any final deal because Iran's whole reason for agreeing to reigning in its nuclear program is to get sanction relief.
SIEGEL: David, as recently as yesterday, the White House said that President Obama would veto any bill that put constraints on his freedom to negotiate with Iran. Now the White House indicates that the president can support this bill. What changed?
WELNA: The bill changed. The period for a congressional review of the final deal, during which sanctions could not be lifted was shrunk from 60 days to 30 days in a bipartisan deal that was worked out last night. And the bill was also stripped of language that was a deal-breaker for the White House, which would have required that the president certify every 90 days to Congress that Iran had not been involved in any terrorist activities against the United States.
Now the bill simply requires that the president report to Congress any terrorist activities Iran may have been involved in. And with those changes, the White House was no longer wielding a veto threat today.
SIEGEL: Well, there is no agreement yet with Iran. And there is a tentative framework and the parties are trying to reach a final deal by the end of June. So what happens now in terms of what Congress does?
WELNA: Well, both the House and the Senate would have to approve the bill that passed in committee today and then no further action is likely until after a final deal is reached at the end of June, if indeed that happens. And then I think you'd see a huge amount of debate over whether Congress should approve that deal or not, probably happening in the month of July. And if they don't approve it - if there's a resolution of disapproval, there would almost certainly be a presidential veto of that action. And then we'd have to see if there are enough Democrats willing to join Republicans in getting the two-thirds majorities needed in each chamber to override that veto. And if that happened, that would certainly be the end of the deal.
SIEGEL: But in terms of a resolution of disapproval, that would really relate to the sanctions, right? Since there is isn't - this is not a treaty, which the Congress can reject.
WELNA: That's true. But the way this bill is written, it says that if they pass a resolution of disapproval, it would automatically mean that the president could not waive any sanctions, even though it's written into law that he can. This would be an act of Congress, and he would have to abide by it.
SIEGEL: OK, thank you, David.
WELNA: You're welcome.
SIEGEL: That's NPR national security correspondent David Welna, talking about today's unanimous vote at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in favor of a bill that governs the deal with Iran.
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