WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Obama agreed to legislation that will allow Congress to vote on a nuclear deal with Iran because the bill will not prevent the president from delivering a final agreement, even if lawmakers disapprove of it, argued Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).
“Were we to disapprove [a final nuclear deal], he would veto that bill and to get 67 votes to override that veto, it’s impossible really to do it in the U.S. Senate,” argued the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa at a forum on Wednesday sponsored by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). “So it really is a risk that he can afford to take because he’s not going to lose that bet.”
“So, I don’t think that we should herald it as a big improvement,” she continued. “It was ludicrous to begin with that Congress would not have a say.”
Some analysts support her argument.
If Congress decided to reject an Iran deal through a “joint resolution of disapproval,” Obama would still hold the power to veto that move.
As the chairwoman suggested, it would be difficult for Senate Republicans to override that veto.
The President would only need to secure 34 votes in the Senate to preserve his veto and prevail, an outcome that analysts and Rep. Ros-Lehtinen believe is not far-fetched.
As Reuters notes, members of Obama’s own party in the Senate “would likely be less willing to undo what would be a historic foreign policy achievement than they were to back this week’s move for congressional oversight.”
The chairwoman’s comments about the Iran bill being unable to deter Obama from delivering a final agreement echoes an analysis by Robert Einhorn, a former U.S. negotiator with Iran who is now at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, D.C.
“My guess is that the administration will have a strong chance of putting together a block of at least 34 senators,” Einhorn told Reuters.
Einhorn added that the Obama administration intends to persuade Iran that the White House has the constitutional tools “to defeat any effort by the Congress to undermine the agreement.”
Germany and European Union are also optimistic that the Iran bill would not prevent an agreement, Reuters reports.
The legislation provides Congress with at least 30 days to review a final agreement, during which time Obama is expected to be unable to waive or suspend U.S. sanctions against Iran.
However, Obama could take unilateral action to ease sanctions if Congress fails to act.
“Last-minute concessions by Republicans in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee cut the review period to 30 days from the original 60 days and removed a requirement that Obama certify that Iran is not supporting terrorism against the United States,” notes Reuters.
Secretary of State John Kerry has expressed confidence in Obama’s ability to reach a final deal despite where Congress stands on the issue.
During the FDD conference, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen said that Obama actually consulting Congress is unrealistic.
“The fact that he would be coming to us and asking us, that’s kind of like fantasy football. I don’t see that happening,” she said. “I think he considers us a nuisance instead of a helping partner.”
The Florida Republican noted that Obama’s nuclear framework agreement has lowered the bar too much and ignores Iran’s role as a state sponsor of terrorism.
“We have to be honest about this deal. It’s weaker than the UN deal. It’s weaker than the president said it was going to be. It’s just the more we know the more we should be disturbed and anxious and worried,” declared Rep. Ros-Lehtinen.
The U.S. and five other major powers are trying to reach an agreement with Iran, under which the Islamic Republic would “freeze” its nuclear program in exchange for relief from international sanctions.
Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), the ranking-member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, was more optimistic about the role lawmakers will play now that a compromise has been reached with the White House.
He said lawmakers will now be able to focus on dissecting the details of the deal rather than getting entangled in political arguments over whether or not Congress will get a say.
“These are lots of very legitimate questions that over the coming weeks we’re going to really dig in to see if we can get to a deal that addresses them,” said Rep. Deutch.
He was part of a panel discussion along with Ros-Lehtinen at the FDD forum. Both lawmakers received the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Statesmanship Award.