No, it's not his much discussed amendment
saying Congress would not lift its sanctions on Iran unless Iran recognized
Israel. Rather Rubio just wants the Iran deal to conform to the president's own
description of a nuclear framework agreement. As Rubio said Wednesday, "It
requires this final deal be the deal the president says it is."
On the surface, this seems like small ball. On April 2, the White House
released a fact sheet that spelled out Iran's obligations to modify some of its
nuclear facilities and limit its enrichment. The fact sheet said sanctions would
be phased out over time as Iran complied with the terms of the framework.
Rubio's amendment simply quotes that fact
sheet verbatim and says the president may not waive or lift any Congressional
sanctions until he certifies Iran has met the White House conditions.
"For the life of me, I don't understand
why that would be controversial," Rubio said Wednesday. "Yet somehow,
I was told this would box the White House in."
In the face of Iran's new red lines, Obama wobbled. On April 17, Obama said he
was instructing his negotiators to "find formulas that get to our main
concerns while allowing the other side to make a presentation to their body
politic that is more acceptable."
In the Senate it's not clear whether Rubio
will get a vote on his fact-sheet amendment. On Wednesday Rubio said leaders of
his party promised that he would be able to get a fair hearing for his
amendments during the floor debate, but that this week he said he was being told
there may not be enough time to vote on all the amendments Republicans have
So far, Democrats and a few Republicans have
voted down two amendments to the Iran bill. An amendment to treat an Iran deal
as a treaty, and thus require an affirmative two-thirds majority to approve it
in the Senate, was voted down Tuesday 57 to 39. Another amendment that would
require Obama to certify Iran was not supporting acts of terrorism against
Americans as a condition for lifting Congressional sanctions was voted down 54
to 45 on Wednesday. Among the Republicans voting with Democrats on the
amendments are Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations
Committee and co-author of the legislation; Arizona Sen. John McCain, chairman
of the Armed Services Committee; and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, an Iran
hawk who has hinted he will be running for president.
But Rubio's fact-sheet amendment is different.
It doesn't challenge the presidential authority to sign an executive agreement.
Republicans supported that power when their party controlled the White House.
Rubio's fact-sheet amendment is also germane to the Iran legislation before the
Senate. An argument used against other amendments--like Rubio's one on
recognizing Israel--is that it asks Iran to meet conditions not related to the
Rubio's fact sheet amendment only asks
Democrats to vote on whether a final Iran deal should meet the conditions as
described by the leader of their own party. If Democrats vote that it should,
then Obama may be forced to issue a veto over his own fact sheet as he seeks to
make a final agreement more palatable to Iran. If the Democrats vote that it
shouldn't, then they will appear to be conceding the White House either misled
the public or bungled the negotiations earlier this month.
An irony here is that Rubio himself has said
that the deal outlined in the White House fact sheet was too weak. But bad
policy in this case makes for very good politics.
_ Eli Lake is a Bloomberg View columnist who
writes about politics and foreign affairs.