A Bipartisan Attack on a Diplomatic Solution to Iran's Perfectly Legal Nuclear Program?
December 10, 2013
Tim Alberta / National Journal & Greg Sargent / Washington Post
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is attempting to organize a bipartisan coalition to draft a bill that would narrowly define what is, and is not, acceptable in any final nuclear deal with Iran. Meanwhile, Democrats on Capitol Hill are worried that House Democratic leaders are close to joining with House GOP leaders to support a bipartisan measure that could undermine the White House's efforts to reach a long term deal curbing Iran's non-militarized nuclear program.
Cantor Pushing for Bill to Define Iran Deal
Tim Alberta / National Journal
(December 3, 2013) -- House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is attempting to organize a bipartisan coalition to draft a bill that would narrowly define what is, and is not, acceptable in any final nuclear deal with Iran, National Journal has learned.
Cantor, the No. 2 House Republican and the highest-ranking Jewish member of Congress, informed House Republicans of his plan at Tuesday morning's conference meeting, according to sources in the room.
"I for one am really upset with that interim deal," Cantor said, according to those who were there, adding: "We can go ahead and criticize it, but ... we should be focused on what that final deal looks like."
Cantor told his GOP colleagues that he's working with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., to find lawmakers in both parties to support legislation that would "speak volumes" about congressional expectations for an agreement.
Republican aides say Cantor's effort represents the beginning of what they predict will be a bipartisan push to "put in writing" exactly what Congress expects in any final deal on Iran's nuclear program. Specifically, one senior Republican aide said, Cantor's preference is for a final deal that includes a total prohibition on enrichment.
Cantor's office confirmed his desire to pursue Iran legislation but would not elaborate on details. "The leader does not believe the interim agreement with Iran was in our nation's best interests, and he will work with fellow members, Republican and Democrat, to determine that any final deal definitively addresses congressional concerns," Cantor spokesman Rory Cooper said.
The initial Iran agreement, reached late last month, softened some economic sanctions in exchange for Iran freezing parts of its nuclear program. But that deal, designed to create six months of negotiating space to reach a broader agreement, provoked a flurry of bipartisan criticism on Capitol Hill.
The House, which already passed its new round of Iran sanctions this summer, was initially thought to have little recourse in response to the Iran deal. (It's unclear whether the Senate, under immense pressure from the White House not to approve new sanctions, will join the House in passing them.)
But negative response to the Iran deal from both parties and both chambers, Republican aides say, showed that lawmakers are eager to push back against the White House.
With another round of sanctions on hold, and Senate Democrats wary of upstaging President Obama, Cantor's push to define any final Iran agreement could become the most realistic vehicle.
This article appeared in the December 4, 2013, edition of the National Journal Daily.
Fears Mount that Dems Will Undermine White House on Iran
Greg Sargent / Washington Post
(December 6, 2013) -- Multiple Democrats on Capitol Hill are worried that House Democratic leaders are close to joining with House GOP leaders to support a bipartisan measure that could undermine the White House's efforts to reach a long term deal curbing Iran's nuclear program, I'm told by sources involved in discussions.
The worry is that Dem Rep. Steny Hoyer, the number two House Dem, may join with GOP Rep. Eric Cantor on a resolution or bill that will either criticize the current temporary deal with Iran, or call for a new round of sanctions, or set as US policy some strict parameters on a final deal with Iran, such as opposition to any continued uranium enrichment, House Democratic aides say. House Dems and outside foreign policy observers have communicated such worries to Hoyer's office, sources add.
Hoyer's office confirmed to me that Cantor had produced a bill and shared it with him, but declined to discuss details. "Cantor has a bill, and it's being reviewed by our office," Hoyer spokesperson Stephanie Young said. "No decisions have been made." Spokespeople for Cantor didn't respond.
Any resolution or bill along these lines that has the support of any House Dem leaders would increase the pressure on Senate Democrats to pass a measure of their own, which the White House opposes. And some fear that a measure in the House itself -- even if the Senate didn't act -- could have an adverse impact on international talks.
According to reports in The Hill and National Journal, Cantor and House GOP leaders are looking for a way to express opposition to, and put obstacles in the way of, the deal the Obama administration is pursuing. But now that a bill has been produced, and could be joined by Hoyer, that significantly ratchets up worries that Congress could very well act in a way that scuttles hopes for a long term deal.
Those wary of a possible Hoyer-Cantor measure point out that the two have previously collaborated on measures relating to US policy in the Middle East.
Senate Democrats are already debating whether to vote on a bill that would impose new sanctions on Iran that would take hold after the six month expiration of the temporary deal. But the White House has called on Dems to hold off, arguing that passing sanctions legislation could make it harder for both sides to continue negotiating after the six month mark if a deal is close.
The administration also fears sanctions legislation could give Iran a way of arguing -- and could create suspicions among the US's international partners -- that the US is negotiating in bad faith.
If the GOP-controlled House passes something with the support of someone like Hoyer, it could make it harder for Senate Dems to resist pressure to act. Indeed, it could exacerbate divisions among Senate Dems over how to proceed.
It could strengthen the hands of those -- such as Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Robert Menendez -- who want to pass something right now. Senator Harry Reid appears to want to grant the White House the flexibility it has asked for, but bipartisan movement in the House could intensify the pressure on him to allow a vote on something the White House doesn't want.
UPDATE: Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, emails over the following response:
"If Hoyer is teaming up with Cantor, then this certainly comes across as him betraying the White House and the US negotiators. Nothing undermines the President's leverage more than being undercut by his own party members in Congress."
UPDATE II: Steny Hoyer spokesperson Stephanie Young adds more:
"Mr. Cantor has a resolution. It's being reviewed and absolutely no decisions have been made. It's preposterous to think that Mr. Hoyer would sign on to any resolution he believes would undermine the White House or negotiations."
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