U.S. Senate Democrats have blocked a vote of disapproval on the nuclear accord with Iran, delivering President Barack Obama a victory on his top foreign policy initiative.
Forty-two supporters of the accord voted to sustain a procedural maneuver known as a filibuster. Opponents of the deal fell two votes shy of the 60 required to end the filibuster and proceed to a final vote on a resolution of disapproval.
“The Senate has spoken with a clarion voice and declared that the historic agreement to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon will stand,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said moments after the vote.
Obama, in a statement following the vote, called it "a victory for diplomacy, for American national security, and for the safety and security of the world."
But a disappointed Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said, “Democratic senators just voted to block the American people from even having a real vote on one of the most consequential foreign policy issues of our time.”
The vote followed days of impassioned floor debate about the nuclear pact and how Congress should address it.
“It is not a cavalier attitude about war that leads me to oppose this deal,” said Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah. “It is my unwavering judgment that this deal makes war much more likely.”
“Let there be no doubt: A deal that paves, rather than precludes, Iran’s path to nuclear weapons capability makes war more likely,” Hatch added.
“We have the ability to know if they cheat. If they cheat, we have the ability to put right back in place these crippling economic sanctions,” said Democratic Senator Tom Carper of Delaware. “And if that doesn’t do the job, we have other alternatives at our disposal. Nothing is off the table.”
Many Democrats stressed that their backing for the accord in no way eroded their support for Israel. Those assertions prompted sharp words from Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
“If I hear one more comment from my Democratic friends about how much they love Israel — with friends like this, you do not need an enemy,” said Graham. “This [agreement] is, over time, a death sentence for Israel.”
Graham accused the Obama administration of weakness and capitulation to Tehran.
“The only reason they are not dancing in Iran is the ayatollah just doesn’t believe in dancing,” Graham quipped.
Many deal backers said the pact was far from perfect but was preferable to any alternatives presented so far.
“That’s the basic question here, not: Is this a good deal or a bad deal?” said independent Senator Angus King of Maine. “The question is: How does this deal, no matter what its flaws, compare with the alternatives that are out there?
“And [in] all of the drama and all of the argument, speeches and rallies that we have heard, no one has yet come up with a credible alternative,” King added. “The only thing I hear is, ‘We’ll reimpose sanctions and bring them back to the table and get a better deal.’ It is going to be very hard to reimpose those sanctions without the support of our international partners.”
For now, House Republicans have set aside a resolution of disapproval. Facing an internal revolt from conservative members, House Republican leaders are moving forward on a series of alternative measures.
“We’ll use every tool at our disposal to stop, slow and delay this agreement from being fully implemented,” said House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican.
Boehner did not rule out a lawsuit against Obama for not turning over the texts of side deals between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency to Congress, saying the 60-day review period of the deal had not actually started.
Even before Thursday’s Senate action, the White House was speaking of the accord as a done deal.
“Congress essentially had 60 days to play the spoiler,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. "Congress' opportunity to play that role will expire next week [September 17]. That will be good news, and it will mean the international community can move forward with implementing the agreement.”
Lawmakers of both parties said the nuclear accord was most likely the most important matter to reach Capitol Hill during their time in office.