WASHINGTON -- The Senate voted 98-1 on legislation giving Congress a chance to review and possibly reject any final nuclear deal with Iran. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, was the lone vote against the bill and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, did not vote.
The vote followed months of wrangling over the legislation while the U.S. and five other nations have engaged in delicate negotiations with Tehran. Negotiators have been hurrying to reach final agreement by June 30 on a pact to curb Iran's nuclear program in exchange for relief from sanctions stalling the Iranian economy. Talks resume next week in Vienna.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had said congressional review especially is needed because if any final deal with Iran looks similar to interim agreements reached so far, Iran will be left on the threshold of developing a nuclear weapon. He expressed fears that money Iran receives from the lifting of crippling economic sanctions would be used to support the Syrian government, terror networks and rebels in Yemen.
"The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act offers the best chance for our constituents, through the Congress they elect, to weigh in on the White House negotiations with Iran. And make no mistake, they need to have that opportunity," he said.
The bill now heads to the House, where Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has indicated he expects it to pass.
"This important, bipartisan legislation will ensure that Congress has a role in reviewing any potential agreement regarding Iran's nuclear weapons program," Boehner said in a statement. "Our goal is to stop a bad agreement that could pave the way to a nuclear-armed Iran, set off a regional nuclear arms race, and strengthen and legitimize the government of Iran - which threatens Israel and other allies in the region, as well as supports terrorism throughout the Middle East."
The bipartisan legislation will block President Obama from waiving congressional sanctions for at least 30 days while lawmakers weigh in on any final deal with Iran. It also stipulates that if senators disapprove the deal, Obama would lose the current authority he holds to waive certain economic penalties Congress has imposed on Iran.
The bill stalled last week after Cotton and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., proposed changes that drew the objections of Democrats as well as some Republicans who want the bill kept free of controversial provisions that could prompt the White House to withdraw its support.
The bill has the tacit approval from Mr. Obama. He says he will sign it as written, but the White House had warned earlier that he would reconsider if the bill was substantially changed.
Republicans have repeatedly challenged the administration's negotiations with Iran and tried to change the bill to make it difficult for any deal to be reached.
"It is a virtual certainty that no matter how terrible this deal is, it will go into effect and this legislation is unlikely to stop it," said Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who is running for the GOP presidential nomination.
Cruz argued that the legislation wouldn't stop Obama from pressing ahead with any deal.
The bill requires Congress to pass a resolution of disapproval to reject the deal, which would almost certainly be vetoed by Obama. Then, Congress would be required to muster votes from two-thirds of each chamber to override the veto.
"All the president would have to do to force a bad Iran deal on America" is keep 34 senators of the Democratic Party or 145 members of Congress on his side, Cruz said.
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