Global Affairs

Reported White House Plan to Bypass Congress on Iran Stirs Bipartisan Opposition

Lawmakers from both Congressional chambers and both parties continued on Wednesday and Thursday to blast the Obama administration over reports – explicitly outlined on Sunday by The New York Times – that the White House will seek to freeze out lawmakers from helping to shape a nuclear deal with Iran. The scoop had come amid a new wave of stories indicating that the P5+1 global powers have either abandoned or significantly watered down a range of long-standing demands on core issues related to Iran’s nuclear program.

A recent proposal would reportedly allow Iran to keep roughly 300% more centrifuges operating than under a previous scenario capping operating machines at 1,300 centrifuges – which was itself a fallback from long-standing international demands, codified in half a dozen United Nations Security Council resolutions, that Tehran halt its enrichment activities. It is unlikely that Congress, where bipartisan majorities have long demanded that Iran live up to its international obligations as a hedge against Iranian weaponization efforts, would find such that or similar deals acceptable.

Reaction to the New York Times story was swift.

Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) were quoted in the article blasting the administration over the rumored maneuver. The next day saw prominent Democrats from the House side – including Eliot Engel (D-NY), the senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Steve Israel (D-NY) – emphasize that lawmakers would seek to preserve their prerogatives in helping to determine the conditions of any final deal. The subsequent day and half saw statements from the GOP leadership reinforcing the point:

[Senate Minority Whip]  Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said the public wouldn’t “tolerate” the administration’s decision to bypass Congress on a nuclear deal with Iran. “The American people will not tolerate a president who wheels and deals with a radical regime behind their backs and dodges congressional oversight every chance he gets,” Cornyn said Wednesday.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) for his part issued a statement linking the maneuver to the reported erosions in the West’s position:

While this unilateralism alone is distressing, it is made even more worrisome in light of additional reports that the Administration may be willing to yet again make significant concessions to the Iranians in the nuclear negotiations. As the President and his team know full well, there is overwhelming, bipartisan concern on Capitol Hill about Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, its sponsorship of terrorism, its promotion of instability throughout the region, and its appalling human rights record. Congress will not simply look the other way if the Administration agrees to a deal that does not make sufficient progress in rolling back Iran’s nuclear program.

The Washington Post on Wednesday described the emerging consensus as “bipartisan, bicameral[,] and boisterous,” while The Jerusalem Post settled for a more muted headline describing how “across party lines, Congress seeks more details on Iran talks.” The Israeli outlet also quoted a Senate Republican aide blasting the White House for having “deliberately” sought to “shut out” lawmakers.

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