For a moment in the spring, it seemed like Republicans quietly grasped the reality of the Iran deal.
As I have explained previously, President Obama doesn’t need fresh congressional approval to hold up his end of the Iran deal and waive sanctions because both parties in Congress already gave Obama the authority to waive them in the original sanctions law.
Understanding that Obama held all the cards, nearly every Republican joined Democrats back in May to pass the “Iran Nuclear Review Act” – which in effect suspended Obama’s waiver authority for 60 days “following transmittal by the President of an agreement” to Congress, in order to give Congress the opportunity to review and weigh in. Once the 60 days is up on September 17, Obama’s authority is restored unless Congress could a veto-proof supermajority to revoke it.
We know Congress can’t. With the help of a robust effort by the White House, J Street and other progressive organizations to counter conservative misinformation, public opinion, when the details are understood, supports the deal. Support is particularly strong among Democratic voters, and in turn, Democratic support is Congress is nearly unanimous and sufficient to sustain a veto of any attempt to revoke waiver authority.
Still, Republicans folded their weak hand back in May. They never admitted it publicly, but clearly they understood they had willingly given Obama his waiver authority years ago and they didn’t have to numbers to take it back.
But their brief foray into reality appears to have ended.
Instead of following the procedures laid out in the Iran Nuclear Review Act, as the Senate Republicans are prepared to do, House conservatives have forced Speaker John Boehner to proceed as if President Obama has failed to follow the Iran Nuclear Review Act. They charge since Obama didn’t transmit the contents of a “safeguard agreement” between the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran, the President didn’t fully submit all “related” materials and therefore the 60-day clock hasn’t even started.
But as Vox’s Max Fisher has explained, an IAEA “safeguard agreement” is not a “side deal” related to the overall Iran agreement. It’s a standard procedure the IAEA uses with 180 countries to implement their inspections. It is usually a secret between the IAEA and the respective countries because “the IAEA wants as much access as possible, and because countries do not necessarily want the details of their nuclear facilities broadcast to the world.” In turn, Obama does not have it, and is unable to send it to Congress. To interpret the Iran Nuclear Review Act to encompass any IAEA safeguard agreement is to render the Iran Nuclear Review Act null and void.
All the House Republicans are doing is making it impossible for Congress to pass a resolution of disapproval for Obama to veto, or force Senate Democrats to formally filibuster.
Perhaps that’s no big risk to conservatives – no matter what, the Iran deal gets implemented. But the bigger risk is the image it sends to voters. Because those watching the juvenile tactics may ask themselves who they would rather handle our delicate foreign policy matters: those who accept reality or those that don’t.
*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said that Obama’s waiver authority was in place before the 60-day window begins. The Iran Nuclear Review Act, which Obama signed in May, suspends that authority “prior to” the 60-day window as well.