Senate Easily Passes Bill for a Voice on Iran Nuclear Accord

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from The New York Times,

A bill that would give Congress a voice in any nuclear agreement between world powers and Iran passed the Senate overwhelmingly on Thursday, a rare bipartisan accord to curb executive authority in an era of expanding presidential power.

The measure, which was approved 98 to 1, withstood months of tense negotiations, White House resistance, the federal indictment of one of its sponsors and an acrid partisan feud over a speech to Congress by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel just as an agreement was coming together.

The lone vote against the bill, which would give Congress a say in the lifting of sanctions against Iran, was cast by Senator Tom Cotton, a freshman Republican of Arkansas who was sharply critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy and labored last month to undermine the legislation.

By empowering itself with a role in the delicate negotiations, Congress is making clear that it wants to be more assertive on foreign policy, traditionally the final frontier of a lame-duck president, though it remains divided about the use of military force against countries besieged by violent Muslim extremists.

“It’s important that the president be able to fully exercise his Article II powers but just as important for Congress to exercise its Article I powers,” said Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, who has pushed for increasing the role of Congress, referring to the separation of powers in the Constitution.

The bill would require that the administration send the text of a final accord, along with classified material, to Congress as soon as it was completed. It also would halt any lifting of sanctions pending a 30-day congressional review and culminate in a possible vote to allow or forbid the lifting of congressionally imposed sanctions in exchange for the dismantling of much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. Mr. Obama could still be able to get an Iran deal beyond the review period.

In many ways, Iran is a distinct foreign policy problem that unites lawmakers across party lines. While Congress has long been pushing the administration to be tougher on Iran — even pondering a bill to increase sanctions — it is divided on a move favored by Mr. Kaine to require congressional approval for military force against the Islamic State.

The administration, which originally resisted any role for Congress, sounded notes of acquiescence Thursday. “We have been clear that the bill passed out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month was the kind of reasonable and acceptable compromise that the president would be willing to sign,” said Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, adding, “We were pleased to see that what just overwhelmingly passed the Senate stayed true to that bipartisan compromise and we are hopeful that the House will similarly protect this compromise bill.”

Ultimately, it was less White House agitation than Republican infighting that prevented significant amendments to the bill, leaving some members deeply unhappy that they were unable to weigh in further on a matter that many said was the most significant of their careers.

But in the end, a bipartisan accord that seemed nearly impossible in the cantankerous Congress just a few months ago came together by a formidable margin.

The bill that passed the Senate Thursday, originally introduced in February by Mr. Corker and Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, enjoyed bipartisan support because its central concern was congressional prerogative.

Soon after, Mr. Cotton wrote an open letter to the Iranian government warning of the shortcomings of the agreement negotiated by the Obama administration, and he got 46 of his Republican colleagues to sign on. Then, in another twist, Mr. Menendez was indicted on corruption charges and stepped down as ranking member of the committee, leaving Senator Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, who is far less hawkish, in charge of the Democrats’ role in the bill.

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