They were supposed to vote today at 1 p.m. ET to open debate on the GOP’s resolution disapproving of Obama’s nuclear deal. The plan was to pass it this week and then send it to the Senate, where it’s set to die ignominiously by Democratic filibuster. There’s no suspense as to how this ends, in other words — Obama wins and the deal is implemented without Congress even managing to pass a bill on the matter — but, thanks to an eleventh-hour push by House conservatives about whether Obama has complied with the Corker bill that passed a few months ago, there is now a bit of suspense about whether the bill will reach the Senate at all. Which is … a moral victory, I guess?
Today’s vote has now been delayed and the House GOP caucus will meet at 4 p.m. to find a way forward because John Boehner once again miscalculated the degree of support he had in his own caucus.
GOP leaders had to change course after hearing an earful from rank-and-file members during a morning conference meeting.
Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus are demanding that the Obama administration send side deals between Iran and international nuclear inspectors to Congress as part of the Iran deal now under consideration. Opponents of the deal have argued that the clock on congressional consideration of the deal has not even begun until these side deals are submitted.
Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) has offered a resolution that would prevent a vote on the Iran deal until all of the documents of the international agreement — including the deals between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are provided to Congress for review.
Remember the secret side deals? One of them provides that Iran will have a hand in inspecting its own nuclear site at Parchin. Congress has apparently been briefed about that, and the AP went so far as to publish what it claims is the text of the deal a few weeks ago, but Obama hasn’t formally submitted the side deal to the House and Senate. Andy McCarthy argued over the weekend in a piece at NRO that that’s a dealbreaker since the Corker bill, which created this congressional review process, specifically calls for the White House to submit the agreement to Congress along with “any additional materials related thereto, including annexes, appendices, codicils, side agreements, implementing materials, documents, and guidance, technical or other understandings, and any related agreements, whether entered into or implemented prior to the agreement or to be entered into or implemented in the future.” Rep. Mike Pompeo and David Rivkin made the same point the following day in WaPo. Jonathan Tobin picked it up yesterday at Commentary. The Roskam resolution referenced in the excerpt above argues that because the side deals haven’t been presented to Congress, the 60-day deadline Congress has to approve or reject the deal — which is set to expire on September 17 — technically hasn’t begun yet. When Obama submits the side deals, then the clock will start running, meaning that this Iran process won’t be decided until early November at the earliest.
Boehner’s Republican allies in the House want to know: Why are conservatives bringing this up now when they could have brought it up two months ago?
“I think it’s pretty clear that a month and a half ago that we understood that Sept. 17 would be the drop-dead date and the week we’re doing it is a little late to bring up the argument,” said Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.), the Rules Committee chairman, referring to the deadline established in the review law.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), an outspoken critic of the Iran deal, said he saw little point in delaying an Iran vote: “It will be perceived by the American people that we abdicated,” he said. “I think we have an obligation to be heard on this, to vote on it. … Otherwise the average person is just going to think we’re afraid.”
I don’t get that either. Critics have had 60 days to build this argument that the full deal hasn’t been properly submitted to Congress for consideration and it took Andy McCarthy nudging them the weekend before debate is set to begin in September to get their act together and pound that point? Why weren’t hawks slamming away at this during the recess in August? Now it stinks, as if they’ve gone loophole-hunting to try to stop the deal with a longshot argument at the last second instead of spending weeks building the idea that the side deals are a key part of the process and Congress can’t take a fully informed vote without them.
Be that as it may, what’s to be gained by delaying the vote until Obama submits the side deals? One argument is that it buys the GOP more time to turn public opinion against the deal and maybe tilt a few Democratic fencesitters from votes in favor to votes against. That won’t prevent Obama’s ultimate victory in having the deal implemented, but if you think it’d be some kind of moral victory for the GOP to force a veto on this instead of have it crash and burn in the Senate via filibuster, well, there you go. Another argument is that because this whole process reeks, from the ass-backwards process of needing just one-third of the Senate to ensure implementation to the White House formally withholding key annexes to the agreement before Congress votes, it’s better that there’s no vote in the first place. Create a total congressional boycott of the process by jamming up the House, with Boehner and conservatives each refusing to budge. There’ll be no vote of any kind in the House or the Senate and the GOP can claim that they had nothing whatsoever to do with implementing this trainwreck. It’s Obama’s baby entirely. The problem with that argument, of course, is that Obama will simply treat the lack of a vote in Congress as evidence that there wasn’t enough opposition to his plan even to bring it to the floor. That’d be nonsense, but voters will believe all sorts of nonsense that the president farts their way. Also, if no vote is better than a losing vote, why did we go through the whole Corker process to begin with?
The real reason to jam up the House, I think, is simply to make life more difficult for Boehner, not Obama. Again, Obama’s going to win here no matter how this standoff in the House plays out. Boehner, however, arguably loses either way. If he brings Roskam’s resolution to the floor and it passes, Obama will shrug and proceed to implement the deal despite the absence of any congressional vote. He’ll probably argue that he’s not obliged to submit the side deals to Congress because they’re technically between Iran and the IAEA, not Iran and the U.S., and therefore not part of America’s obligations. That’d be a weak argument but what does President Overreach care about that? If Boehner refuses to bring Roskam’s resolution to the floor and either passes a resolution of disapproval without conservative support or fails to pass anything at all, House conservatives will be outraged and demand that it’s time for Boehner to go. It’d be a nice way to build momentum, with the struggle to defund Planned Parenthood coming up, that he’s a weak Speaker who’s lost his caucus and should step down before any more damage is done. Maybe this is worth doing for that reason alone.
Update: The new plan, allegedly:
The House GOP is discussing a new plan, which they plan to present to the rank-and-file at a 4 p.m. meeting Wednesday, that would attempt to pass legislation with three separate concepts. They are moving toward voting on a measure asserting Obama did not submit all elements of the agreement with Iran, a concept first raised by Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), a former member of GOP leadership. Second, Republicans are working on a bill to try to prevent Obama from lifting sanctions against Iran. Third, the House would vote on a resolution to approve of the Iran pact. The original plan was to vote on a disapproval resolution.
The strategy has not been finalized, and is subject to change.
If I’m reading that correctly, they’re essentially going to turn McCarthy’s point into a matter of mere symbolism — i.e. “yes, Obama didn’t comply with the Corker bill by submitting all elements of the agreement, but we’re going to go ahead and vote on it anyway.” McCarthy’s strategy is designed, I thought, to stop this process in its tracks before the GOP’s resolution dies in the Senate. Instead it’s being treated as a minor hiccup, something that can be footnoted as the original plan to vote this week is carried out.
Update: Full speed ahead for your Senate majority leader.
“As I understand law, once Sept. 17 passes is it not the case that the president will take the view that he is free to go forward,” to lift sanctions, he said…
“What is difficult to understand is what the next course of action is if you take that position and don’t register bipartisan opposition today,” Corker said.
Corker said holding a bipartisan vote this month in favor of a disapproval measure would be productive even if it fails to reach the 60-vote threshold.
“That opens the door for the next president to look at this in a very different way. Bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate will have disapproved of what was negotiated,” he said.
In other words, regardless of whether Obama has complied with the terms of Corker’s bill or not, the GOP needs to hurry up and pass a resolution of disapproval by September 17 or else Obama will just decree on that date that Congress has abstained and he’ll implement the deal anyway. That’s life in a post-constitutional America: Even if the president doesn’t fulfill his legal obligations, he still gets what he wants.