Congress Braces for Round Two of
By Jordain Carney
December 27, 2015
The Senate is heading toward round
two in the fight over the Iran nuclear deal.
Senators are considering extending
a package of sanctions against Tehran set to expire next year. The sanctions
law—known as the Iran Sanctions Act—includes provisions targeting Iran’s
nuclear program, as well as ballistic missies and the country's energy sector.
“I think it’s likely that
Congress will act on it sometime next year,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the
ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, told The Hill before
lawmakers left for the holiday recess.
He said senators suggested during
a December briefing that they were looking at an extension as early as January
or February, trying to get Stephen Mull, Obama’s point person on the deal, to
weigh in on the potential timeline.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said
earlier this month during a Foreign Relations hearing that "in January many
members of Congress will call for the swift renewal" of the sanctions law.
But that timing could coincide
with the deal's “implementation day,” potentially putting the administration
in the awkward position of trying to lift sanctions against Iran just as
lawmakers try to extend them.
Supporters of extending the
sanctions law say it’s needed so the administration, or future
administrations, has the ability to “snap back” sanctions into place if Iran
violates the nuclear deal.
They argue that a pair of recent
missile tests—which have frustrated lawmakers in both parties—underscores
the worry that Iran will try to cheat on the nuclear agreement.
They are pressing Obama to send a
clear message that he’s prepared to hold Tehran accountable, including leaving
the sanctions law on the table.
“How you respond to this
challenge will send a message to the Iranian regime about its compliance with
the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) wrote
in a letter to Obama this month.
He said it would be a “good
start” for the president to use existing authorities to target
individuals—including freezing their assets—if they support Iran’s
ballistic missile program.
He also urged the president to
publicly support legislation he drafted with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) that would
provide for a 10-year extension of the Iran Sanctions Act.
That proposal, which is backed by
Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), two presidential contenders,
has languished in the Banking Committee. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the
committee chairman, however, suggested he backs extending the sanctions.
“Anything to tighten up on Iran,
the behavior that they have exhibited and will exhibit in the future, they’re
on the right track,” he said ahead of the recess.
Separately, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.),
chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, has suggested that his panel will be
turning its focus to Iran and the sanctions law, as he and Cardin pledge
“rigorous” oversight of the deal.
“Now we’re going to begin to
look at steps we want to take legislatively,” he told The Hill earlier this
year. “I’m certain that will be one of the steps.”
But any effort to renew the
legislation would likely get pushback from the Obama administration—and some
of its staunchest allies in Congress—over concerns that any new sanctions
could be considered by Iran to be a violation of the agreement.
Asked if Iran would consider an
extension of the law a breach, Mull suggested it was unclear, during a December
Foreign Relations Committee hearing.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) pushed back
against the notion that the ballistic missile tests should shift the debate on
extending the Iran Sanctions Act.
“I don’t think activity on the
non-nuclear side should change the schedule on the JCPOA,” he said, but added
that the administration should “go fervently” after Iran if it doesn't
Administration officials have been
cool to extending the law, arguing that they have other resources to hold Iran
accountable for any potential violation of the deal without an extension of the
To get an extension through the
Senate, Republicans will need the four Democrats who opposed the Iran deal,
including Menendez and Cardin, and at least two additional Senate Democrats who
supported the nuclear agreement to back the sanctions legislation.
Democratic Sens. Chris Coons
(Del.) and Gary Peters (Mich.) have both said they support an extension, though
they haven’t specifically backed the Kirk-Menendez bill.
Corker went further earlier this
year predicting that an extension would be able to get 67 votes—enough to
overcome any potential veto.
Cardin, asked how he could
convince skeptical Democrats who supported the Iran deal, suggested they were
“I don’t think it’s whether
you’re for or against the deal,” he said. “I think we all agree that if
you’re going to snapback, it’s easier to have the framework in place than
trying to pass the framework in the midst of trying to do a snapback.”