WASHINGTON -- For the second time, Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked a vote to move forward on a resolution rejecting the Iran nuclear deal, protecting President Obama's key foreign policy initiative.
The measure failed Tuesday to gain the 60 votes needed to advance - just as it did last Thursday. The vote was 56 to 42.
Though the measure is unlikely to advance, Republicans staged the Senate vote to make political points against Democrats and in future Senate races. They point to polls showing Americans have reservations about the deal.
The second vote was not the final word in the Senate. Frustrated with the outcome, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., set up a third vote Thursday on a measure that would bar Mr. Obama from lifting sanctions on Iran unless Tehran recognized Israel as a state and released U.S. prisoners held in Iran.
"Either way this debate will continue," the Republican leader said.
Despite McConnell's maneuver on a politically fraught measure certain to show up in campaign ads and fundraising appeals, Democrats were expected to again hold together and block the bill.
As debate resumed Tuesday, McConnell accused Democratic senators of refusing to let the Senate vote on the deal.
"A strong, bipartisan majority of the House of Representatives voted to reject the deal. A strong, bipartisan majority of the Senate would vote to reject the deal too," McConnell said. "If only Democrat senators would stop blocking the American people from even having a final vote on one of the most consequential foreign policy issues of our age."
Making his case for a vote, McConnell quoted Obama as saying, "I believe Congress owes the American people a final up or down vote."
Other Republicans who spoke out against the deal said even Democrats have publicly noted the drawbacks to the deal. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, displayed black-and-white placards printed with quotes from pro-deal Democrats who have expressed reservations about the agreement.
However, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said Tuesday's vote - and the possibility of another one later in the week - was an exercise in futility.
"We had this vote last week," Durbin said. "I don't know why we're doing a replay of this."
Democrats, led by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., maintain the issue is settled, especially with the congressional review period expiring Thursday. He called the votes a "charade."
The international accord backed by the United States, Iran and five world powers would curb Iran's nuclear program in exchange for relief from crippling sanctions that have undercut Tehran's economy.
The accord got a boost as the Vatican, just ahead of Pope Francis' visit to Washington next week, welcomed the agreement. Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Holy See's secretary for relations with states, said in Vienna on Monday that the Vatican backs the agreement because it thinks the best way to resolve disputes is through dialogue and negotiation.
Gallagher said the Vatican hopes full implementation of the accord "will ensure the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program" and "will be a definitive step toward greater stability and security in the region."