The consolation prize in the great Senate GOP sellout on the Iran deal was supposed to be the opportunity it created to embarrass Obama. The fear was that if Republicans insisted on two-thirds approval of the deal for ratification, as the Constitution’s Treaty Clause requires, King Barack would simply reassure the public that this wasn’t technically a treaty and proceed to implement the agreement under his own executive authority. Heads he wins, tails you lose. That’s life in post-republic America. (And if you like that model, wait until President Trump is sworn in.) So Bob Corker and McConnell decided to try to wring a PR victory out of the process instead. They’d offer a resolution of disapproval of the deal, which Obama could veto once it passed, and then try to override the veto with 67 votes. They’d almost certainly lose that override vote, but the process would free a bunch of hawkish Democrats to vote with the GOP, knowing that their votes were largely symbolic and wouldn’t really interfere with Obama’s plans. “We proved that the opposition to this agreement is bipartisan,” Republicans could say afterward in defeat. “This is a vote of no confidence in the president and the terms of the deal.” It would still be implemented, but Obama would be humiliated at home and abroad. And Iran and Europe would be left wondering whether the next president would feel obliged to maintain an agreement that drew a near supermajority in opposition in Congress. It would be another example of Republican failure theater, but failure theater to the greater end of undermining the durability of the agreement.
And now it seems we might lose our consolation prize too.
The numbers are tight: They’ll need 12 of the remaining 15 undecided Senate Democrats to go Obama’s way [in order to filibuster a Republican resolution of disapproval], along with the 29 already there…
Obama faces a huge pile-up of trouble if he has to veto the bill, and they know it in the West Wing. Already facing major public skepticism about the deal, this could brew more doubt. The other governments involved have expressed their own wariness, concerned that a deal preserved only by a sustained veto might represent a lack of long-term American commitment.
“There’s a cost to the international credibility of the country and this president if a motion of disapproval passes the House and the Senate,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who’s working with Durbin. “There is some harm to the country’s standing if we have to go through the charade of the veto.”…
With the United Nations General Assembly meeting set for after the initial vote, the White House would much rather have Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu come to New York to rail against an Iran deal that’s already on the books, versus Netanyahu rolling up to a U.N. podium to call on lawmakers to overturn an Obama veto as one last chance to stop the deal.
Per Politico, Harry Reid, the retiring minority leader, not only supports the deal but is whipping votes in favor. Chuck Schumer, the incoming minority leader, is the most prominent Democrat against it — but he’s not whipping votes at last check. This might have been an interesting test of strength and loyalty if the two were pulling hard in opposite directions, but since Schumer never intended to actually stand in Obama’s way, there’s every reason to think that Reid will deliver the 12 undecideds that Obama needs to be able to dismiss the vote in the Senate as party-line nonsense that no one need pay much attention to. (You can see a list of fencesitters at HuffPo. Five of the undecided 15 seem to be very likely yes votes, so Reid only needs seven more.) The only real restraint now on wavering Dems is the polling. Has public opinion of the deal turned so grim that they’re willing to embarrass Obama and Reid in the name of protecting their own Senate seats? Given that voters almost never vote on foreign policy issues, even ones as high-profile as this, why would they?
Bob Corker, by the way, told Politico he’s aghast that Harry Reid and his caucus would try to short-circuit a vote on a momentous international dispute, which tells you a lot about Corker’s strategic thinking. Wouldn’t the GOP have been better off in hindsight by standing firm on the two-thirds obligation required by the Treaty Clause and suing Obama if he ignored it and implemented the deal anyway? Even if they lost the suit, at least Congress’s fingerprints wouldn’t be on the deal, which would make it easier for a GOP successor to declare upon taking office that the agreement has been a matter for the executive branch since day one and therefore he’s fully entitled to dispense with it. As it is, we’re going to end up with a perverse sort of congressional legitimacy being lent to the agreement once Senate Dems shoot it down on a more or less party-line vote. Obama won’t even need to get involved.
All we need now is for Schumer to flip and decide he’s going to support the deal too. Estimated time: One week.