The Deciding Vote for Obama’s Iran Deal Was Bob Corker, Not Barbara Mikulski

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

The Beltway press tried to make the passage of President Obama’s nuclear sellout to Iran look like a moment of high political drama, but you could tell their hearts weren’t really in it. Everyone knew this was a done deal from the very beginning, thanks to the efforts of the true “deciding vote,” Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee.

Democrat Barbara Mikulski might have been the 34th vote from her party that made it impossible for the Senate majority to stop the deal, but Corker was the key figure in turning Congressional rules upside-down and rendering the majority powerless.

Everything since Corker’s deal has been mere theater, with Corker himself an occasional star performer. “From my perspective, Mr. Secretary, I’m sorry. Not unlike a hotel guest that leaves only with a hotel bathrobe on his back, I believe you’ve been fleeced,” he drawled at Secretary of State John Kerry during a congressional appearance, knowing, as he spoke, that his objections were meaningless, his criticism pure posturing.  

Even more hammy were Corker’s hilariously inaccurate predictions that his rules could actually halt the Iran sellout. “Look, I don’t ever want to overcommit and under-deliver,” he said in April. “We are moving in a very positive direction, and we’ve worked through some issues that I think have given me a lot of hope… I feel like were going to present a bill tomorrow that keeps 100 percent of the integrity of the process relevant to the nuclear agreement in place.”  

He was confident that process would result in President Obama’s deal dying on Capitol Hill–a confidence shared by no one capable of counting how many Democrats had survived the 2014 midterm bloodbath.

As hilariously lame and awkward as Kerry’s sojourns to Congress were, the Secretary could rightfully complain that it was all a gigantic waste of his time anyway. The fix was in. The odds that a handful of Democrat Senators could not be persuaded to spare their President a historic embarrassment were incredibly small. No one ever really thought Obama would have a hard time getting 34 members of his Party to meet the absurdly low threshold Corker arranged.

This left the Democrats with plenty of room to indulge little “conscience” dramas from a few Senators with Jewish and/or right-leaning constituencies to mollify, notably Senator Chuck Schumer of New York.

That is one reason Corker’s deal was so foolish. Even if the Iran sellout could not be stopped — because Obama went outside the American political system to work with China and Russia at the United Nations, cutting American voters and their representatives out of the loop entirely — it was still important to make this painful for the Democrats. Instead, Corker made it as painless as possible with his “bipartisan” arrangement, leaving the Democrats plenty of room to indulge members like Schumer, who had to pretend they were concerned about national security and the fate of Israel.  

It also became easier for the Obama Administration to conduct its charade of “selling the deal.” Every salesman relaxes when he knows a sloppy pitch is good enough to get the paperwork signed.

The key element of Corker’s “bipartisan compromise” is that it became necessary for Congress to aggressively kill the deal, instead of voting to support it. NPR accurately compared this to the way debt ceiling increases work.

Instead of persuading the Senate to approve a deal that would shape the future of the Middle East and impact American national security for decades to come, it became necessary for the Senate to aggressively disapprove the deal. Obama could veto the disapproval, and needed to convince only 34 members of his own Party to declare they would not vote to override his veto.

In theory, it is also possible for 41 senators to filibuster congressional disapproval and spare President Obama the trouble of breaking out his veto pen — an outcome made significantly more likely by the sure and certain knowledge that his veto would be sustained anyway, although that might require a few of those scam-artist Democrat “conscientious objectors” to drop their act and vote to support the Iran deal. It would be a delicious final humiliation for the Republicans if Obama can make that happen, and it would give him a considerable political boost, because he could stage a few tearful welcome-back embraces for Democrats who “came home.” Public polling on the Iran deal is still dismal enough to make it hard to pull off, however.

Politico’s post-mortem on the Iran saga portrays Corker as President Obama’s man on the Republican side of the aisle, a slightly tetchy player on a team quarterbacked by Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland, who became the top Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democrat after the interestingly-timed corruption probe of New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, an opponent of the Iran deal.

“The low-key Cardin engaged in a furious round of negotiations with gregarious Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, prompting something that was once viewed as almost unthinkable: a bipartisan deal for Congress to review an Iran nuclear deal – with the blessing of President Barack Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi,” Politico writes. Cardin served as “liaison” between Obama and Corker, ostensibly a “blunt-spoken Tennessee Republican,” who was “burning up the phones over the two-week congressional recess, keeping at bay presidential hopefuls like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio as he sought to find a middle ground on the highly charged issue.”

And that is just what Republican voters wanted when they crawled over broken glass to give Republicans a seemingly impossible Senate majority in 2014, right? Democrats still effectively running the Senate even though they are in the minority, and a beaming Nancy Pelosi blessing polite arrangements to give Barack Obama everything he wants, at minimal political cost?

This is all a mirror image of the way President Obama’s hapless team got taken to the cleaners by tough-talking Iranian negotiators, who knew from Day One that Obama would give them nearly anything to get a deal, and played their cards accordingly. Those negotiations also produced a great deal of tough-guy theater from Kerry and Obama, but the Iranians saw no reason to play along. At least the White House occasionally pretended to be frustrated with the Corker Republicans, and worried about the fate of its precious deal.  

(A frequent complaint is that any significant congressional involvement in the deal will make the Iranians think America is impossible to deal with – something the Iranians never say about their legislature, which they take pains to describe as a respected institution, no matter how things actually work in the theocracy.)  

The Iranians are guilty of many evils, but at least they never seemed interested in staging Failure Theater performances for the global media. That is all the Republican leadership has offered its voters throughout most of the Obama era, perpetually fearful that any stiff legislative battle would drain their account of the political capital they refuse to spend.  

Defenders of the Corker arrangement say the fix was really in when Obama made it clear he would cut the American people out of the deal and impose it through international arrangements, but a fighting party would call a threat like that and force the President to carry it out – making him bleed politically with every step, shouting from the mountaintop to warn those marginalized Americans of how their representation had been cast aside like garbage, to be replaced by foreign councils.  

A fighting party would have made this process as difficult as possible on their opponents, rather than working out bipartisan compromises to grease the wheels, asking for little but a few spotlight moments to voice their objections along the way. The GOP leadership supposedly believes this Iran deal is a dangerous mistake that puts the future of the world at risk, does it not? Then why did they make this deal as easy to pass as an automatic debt-ceiling increase, instead of fighting like wildcats and making the Democrats pay for every inch of ground they shoved this dead weight across?

Senate Republicans made themselves irrelevant to a process they decided they could not actually stop.  Democrats never seem to think that’s a smart strategy, even when they’re in the minority. The inevitable round of “we tried to stop Obama’s dangerous nuclear deal!” GOP fundraising letters will not go over well, if Republican voters have truly gotten sick of this crap, and insist on a party that fights like the Democrats do.


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