Journal Editorial Board
President Obama says he wants Congress to play
a role in approving a nuclear deal with Iran, but his every action suggests the
opposite. After months of resistance, the White House said Tuesday the President
would finally sign a bill requiring a Senate vote on any deal—and why not
since it still gives him nearly a free hand.
Modern Presidents have typically sought a
Congressional majority vote, and usually a two-thirds majority, to ratify a
major nuclear agreement. Mr. Obama has maneuvered to make Congress irrelevant,
though bipartisan majorities passed the economic sanctions that even he now
concedes drove Iran to the negotiating table.
The Republican Congress has been trying to
reclaim a modest role in foreign affairs over Mr. Obama’s furious resistance.
And on Tuesday afternoon the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously
passed a measure that authorizes Congress to vote on an Iran deal within 30 days
of Mr. Obama submitting it for review. .
As late as Tuesday morning, Secretary of State
John Kerry was
still railing in private against the bill. But the White House finally conceded
when passage with a veto-proof majority seemed inevitable. The bill will now
pass easily on the floor, and if Mr. Obama follows his form, he will soon talk
about the bill as if it was his idea.
Mr. Obama can still do whatever he wants on
Iran as long as he maintains Democratic support. A majority could offer a
resolution of disapproval, but that could be filibustered by Democrats and
vetoed by the President. As few as 41 Senate Democrats could thus vote to
prevent it from ever getting to President Obama’s desk—and 34 could sustain
a veto. Mr. Obama could then declare that Congress had its say and
“approved” the Iran deal even if a majority in the House and Senate voted to
Foreign Relations Chairman Bob
Corker deserves credit for trying, but in the end he had to agree to
Democratic changes watering down the measure if he wanted 67 votes to override
an Obama veto. Twice the Tennessee Republican delayed a vote in deference to
Democrats, though his bill merely requires a vote after the
negotiations are over.
His latest concessions shorten the review
period to 30 days, which Mr. Obama wanted, perhaps to mollify the mullahs in
Tehran who want sanctions lifted immediately. After 52 days Mr. Obama could
unilaterally ease sanctions without Congressional approval. Mr. Obama has said
that under the “framework” accord sanctions relief is intended to be
gradual. But don’t be surprised if his final concession to Ayatollah Khamenei
is to lift sanctions after 52 days.
Mr. Corker also removed a requirement that the
Administration certify to Congress that Iran is no longer supporting terrorism.
This sends an especially bad signal to Iran that Congress agrees with Mr. Obama
that the nuclear deal is divorced from its behavior as a rogue state. One of Mr.
Obama’s least plausible justifications for the nuclear deal is that it would
help to make Iran a “normal” nation. But if Tehran is still sponsoring
terrorism around the world, how can it be trusted as a nuclear partner?
Our own view of all this is closer to that of
Wisconsin Senator Ron
Johnson, who spoke for (but didn’t offer) an amendment in committee
Tuesday to require that Mr. Obama submit the Iran nuclear deal as a treaty.
Under the Constitution, ratification would require an affirmative vote
by two-thirds of the Senate.
Committing the U.S. to a deal of this
magnitude—concerning proliferation of the world’s most destructive
weapons—should require treaty ratification. Previous Presidents from JFK to
Nixon to Reagan and George H.W. Bush submitted nuclear pacts as treaties. Even
Mr. Obama submitted the U.S.-Russian New Start accord as a treaty.
The Founders required two-thirds approval on
treaties because they wanted major national commitments overseas to have a
national political consensus. Mr. Obama should want the same kind of consensus
But instead he is giving more authority over
American commitments to the United Nations than to the U.S. Congress. By making
the accord an executive agreement as opposed to a treaty, and perhaps relying on
a filibuster or veto to overcome Congressional opposition, he’s turning the
deal into a one-man presidential compact with Iran. This will make it vulnerable
to being rejected by the next President, as some of the GOP candidates are
The case for the Corker bill is that at least
it guarantees some debate and a vote in Congress on an Iran deal. Mr. Obama can
probably do what he wants anyway, but the Iranians are on notice that the United
States isn’t run by a single Supreme Leader.