The big news on Tuesday, notwithstanding the odd Scooby Van sighting, was the White House’s decision to lift its veto threat on a Senate bill designed to provide oversight on the delicately-proceeding Iran nuclear deal. At Tuesday’s White House briefing, Press Secretary Josh Earnest took about eleventy-billion questions trying to nail him down to a non-veto, which included a brief promotion for Earnest to hypothetical Senator, and his cumulative answers to those questions boiled down to this:
I think what I would describe this as is a compromise. And Congress has articulated very clearly and strenuously their desire to vote. And the proposal that’s been put forward to vote to vote later is a reasonable one and does reflect — along with all the other changes that we have called for — does reflect the kind of compromise that the President would sign.
Those changes, enumerated at length during the course of Tuesday’s briefing, included things like the removal of poison pills, shortening of the review period, and a clarification of Congress’ future role in the deal, were all still up in the air at that time, but the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved a bill Tuesday afternoon that included everything the White House asked for.
While reporting on the bill carries the strong implication that Congress has won the right to approve or deny the deal, what they’ve really won is nothing at all, a symbolic victory akin to purchasing themselves a “World’s Greatest Congress” mug. The only practical effect the bill has is to impose a maximum 30 day delay on the President’s authority to waive or suspend sanctions (authority that was given to him by Congress), which is what the White House asked for. Since the administration has maintained (above the protestations of the McCain-trusted Supreme Leader of Iran) that sanctions relief wouldn’t begin immediately in any case, that provision has absolutely no impact.
The Corker bill also gives Congress the final say on whether or not to lift sanctions permanently, which they already had, and the ability to vote on the deal itself, which would require 67 votes in the Senate and 356 in the House in order to overcome a presidential veto, the exact opposite of what a congressional vote on a treaty would require.
The Iranian leadership, who apparently have a better grasp of our constitution than 47 of our senators, aren’t lilely to be spooked by the Corker bill, and indeed, the Obama administration will undoubtedly point to it as evidence of their commitment to fight for the deal. What it does do is give opponents of the deal, particularly Democrats and those Republicans who didn’t sign the Tom Cotton letter, the political room to come around to the deal in however grudging a fashion their constituencies demand of them.
The most difficult part of this deal is still going to be getting it past the Iranians, not Congress. The Corker bill shouldn’t have much of an effect on that, and could end up helping congressional Democrats off the fence and into the deal. It’s one thing to insist on being able to vote on the deal, but quite another to actually cast what is essentially a vote for war, on the eve of an election year.