CAPITOL HILL - A bill to allow U.S. lawmakers to review and vote on any final nuclear accord with Iran could get a boost when the Senate votes Thursday to end weeks of rancorous debate on bipartisan legislation that, in its current form, has the tepid backing of the White House.
“We’ll vote for cloture tomorrow morning and likely [achieve] final passage tomorrow afternoon,” said Republican John Cornyn of Texas, the majority whip.
Earlier in the day, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky scheduled the cloture vote, which would require 60 of 100 senators to agree to formally end floor deliberations on the legislation.
Should a deal with Tehran be reached, the bill would freeze U.S. sanctions relief for Iran for 30 days, during which time Congress could vote to approve or disapprove of the accord.
Senate debate was halted last week when several first-term Republican senators introduced amendments demanding Tehran’s recognition of Israel’s right to exist and enhanced inspections in Iran, among other provisions.
If adopted, such “poison pill” amendments would have caused some Democratic lawmakers — and President Barack Obama — to withdraw support for the bill on the ground that the measures would most likely cause Iran to walk away from international negotiations altogether.
For now, Republicans are not ruling out consideration of unspecified lesser amendments unlikely to torpedo the bill.
“There probably won’t be that many [amendments voted on],” said Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, an author of the bill and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, which unanimously approved the legislation last month. He added, “No, no, no, no,” when asked whether any “poison pill” amendments would get a vote.
The bill’s renewed momentum pleased Democrats who were eager for Congress to have a voice in any final nuclear deal with Iran but determined not to undermine the delicate negotiations between Iran and six world powers that yielded a framework accord in Switzerland a month ago.
“I will be very happy if we move forward on a bill without the poison amendments that would forestall or sabotage an agreement [with Iran],” said Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.
Less pleased are Republicans who do not believe the legislation goes far enough in asserting Congress’ prerogative to have a say on a final nuclear deal.
“It is disappointing that we haven’t been allowed to vote on more than two amendments so far,” said Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. “This bill is not ‘advise and consent’" — a reference to Congress' role in treaties as spelled out in the Constitution.
Last week, the Senate voted down an amendment proposed by Johnson that would have elevated a nuclear deal to the status of a treaty, requiring a two-thirds majority vote for ratification.