With the number of Democrats announcing their support for the Iran nuclear deal growing in recent days, the White House is no longer worried much about the need to secure enough votes to sustain a veto of a resolution of disapproval of the pact that was expected to be passed by Congress. Now, with their efforts to pressure Democrats into voting for the deal out of loyalty to President Obama and their party, it appears they have a chance to stop such a resolution from even being voted on. With only two Senate Democrats announcing their opposition (Chuck Schumer and Robert Menendez), there now appears to be a chance that the White House will be able to orchestrate a filibuster of the bill if at least three more Democrats join a unanimous Republican caucus. That will make a mockery of the approval process that Congress has been going through. If it does, the blame will belong to a president who has not hesitated to use inflammatory rhetoric and heavy-handed tactics to stop Congress from interfering with a policy of appeasement of Iran. But Obama didn’t do it alone. He could never have succeeded had he not had the unwitting help of Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. Without Corker’s foolish belief in working with the White House and pusillanimous unwillingness to push for an approval process in line with the Constitution’s provisions about foreign treaties, the administration might never have been able to get away with sneaking through the most important foreign policy decision in a generation.
How did this happen?
When the Republicans won control of the Senate in last November’s midterm elections, the one concern that some conservatives had about this stunning victory was the man who was slated to become the new chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. Corker’s elevation to chairman was the cause of some concern, especially for those who hoped the committee would take a leadership role in the fight to prevent the Obama administration from pushing through what was expected to be a weak nuclear deal with Iran in the event the negotiations succeeded in reaching an agreement. Unlike his Democratic predecessor Senator Robert Menendez, who had been a tough adversary of the administration run his own party, Corker talked a lot about working with the White House on the issue.
The Tennessee Republican didn’t get much cooperation from the administration. However, he did listen to a lot of his Democratic colleagues who were unhappy about confronting Obama but wanted to preserve some sort of Congressional oversight on the Iran negotiations. Thus, hoping to maintain the bipartisan consensus on Iran, Corker shifted the emphasis in the Senate away from a bill that would toughen sanctions against Iran that had been proposed by Menendez and Illinois Republican Mark Kirk. Instead, Corker’s attention was focused on something else: something that would compel the administration to present any deal with Iran for a Congressional vote.
Thus was born the Corker-Menendez bill that would be renamed Corker-Cardin after Menendez was forced out as ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee and replaced by Senator Ben Cardin. Considering that the administration had openly said that it did feel compelled to present any agreement with Iran for Congressional approval, some sort of response was required. But the only thing Corker could get Corker and other Democrats to sign on to was a bill on an Iran nuclear deal that would provide for a simple up and down vote in both the House and the Senate.
What was wrong with that? The Constitution explicitly states that foreign treaties must be presented to the Senate where they must get a two-thirds vote to be approved. The impetus for this high bar was the thought that treaties ought to be a matter of national consensus since they involve the security of the nation and their impact will be felt beyond the current Congress or the incumbent president.
Corker’s bill turned that approval process upside down. Instead of 67 votes to pass a deal that would give Iran Western approval for becoming a nuclear threshold state and a nuclear power once the deal expired in 10 to 15 years, all Obama would now need was 34 votes in the Senate or one-third plus one vote in the House.
It can be argued that Democrats would never have gone along with a bill that would have designated the Iran deal as a treaty as it should have been. The administration knows that there is no legal argument for not designating the deal as a treaty. As Secretary of State John Kerry admitted in his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the only reason they didn’t present it as a treaty is because it is too hard to pass a treaty.
As I wrote at the time that Corker-Cardin was passed, it could be argued that a bill that required a vote of any kind was better than Congress merely standing by and watching as Obama negotiated and implemented a treaty with Iran without doing a thing to stop him. But as bad as that would have been, at least Congress would not then be complicit in the farce of a nuclear deal that failed to achieve the administration’s own objective of ending Iran’s nuclear program.
Though its passage was seemingly a defeat for the administration, the president was laughing up his sleeve as he “reluctantly” signed it into law. The odds of overriding a veto of a resolution of disapproval were always low but by whipping most Democrats in line and forcing Schumer to vow not to try and persuade other Senators to follow him into opposition, the White House has done better than get 34 votes. If they get 41 of the 45 senators that caucus with the Democrats to oppose cloture, there will not even be a vote on the measure.
Corker is flummoxed by this prospect, telling the New York Times that he cannot imagine that a Senate will do it.
“Ninety-eight senators voted to give themselves the right to vote on this,” he said. “Surely they are not going to deny themselves a final vote on the deal.” …
“To block a vote on the deal would be a fascinating turn of events at a minimum,” Mr. Corker said.
Fascinating isn’t quite the word I’d use for such a turn of events. A better description of what is happening is that a tough-minded administration has run rings around an inept Corker. Did he really trust liberal Democrats who promised that they wanted a vote? If so, he is clearly not smart enough to be left in the position of influence he has been given. Far from his accommodating attitude rebuilding the consensus on Iran that Obama has been busy destroying, Corker’s willingness to bend over backwards has facilitated Obama’s disastrous policy.
A filibuster will enable the president to say that Congress never defeated his Iran deal. That’s something that he would have been denied if he had been forced to veto the bill. Even a complete end run by the administration around congress where no vote at all would have been held would have been preferable to a successful Iran deal filibuster. Then opponents would have been able to point to the extra-legal way the president was sneaking his treaty with Iran through. A failed effort to designate the deal as a treaty would also at least have set the record straight about Obama’s disregard for the Constitution. But now Obama can say the deal was reviewed and in a sense passed. This will strengthen his efforts to undermine existing sanctions and make it harder for the deal to overturn it in the future once he leaves office.
For that he can thank Corker. No wonder most of the public, and especially the conservative voters whose efforts made Corker a committee chair, are disgusted with Congress. If that’s the best the Republicans can do, it’s not surprising that many of their adherents want to throw all of the bums out of Washington, theirs as well as the Democrats.