WASHINGTON | BY PATRICIA ZENGERLE
The U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to pass a bill giving Congress the right to review, and potentially reject, an international agreement with Iran aimed at keeping it from developing nuclear weapons.
The 98-1 vote sent the measure to the House of Representatives, which could consider it as soon as next week. The White House said President Barack Obama would sign it into law if it also passes the House, as expected, without significant changes.
"I look forward to House passage of this bill to hold President Obama's administration accountable," John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House, said in a statement supporting the bill shortly after the Senate vote.
The bill gives Congress 30 days to review a final nuclear deal after international negotiators reach such an agreement, and during that time bars Obama from temporarily waiving any U.S. sanctions on Iran that were passed by Congress.
If the Senate and House pass a resolution of disapproval of the deal, it would prevent Obama from offering any waiver of congressional sanctions, the overwhelming majority of U.S. sanctions on Iran.
Such sanctions can only be permanently lifted by Congress.
Lawmakers made clear another battle, over a final nuclear deal, lays ahead. "Make no mistake, that will not be the end of the story," Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a speech urging the bill's passage.
"There is bipartisan concurrence that we do not trust Iran," said Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, a bill co-sponsor and the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
TWISTS AND TURNS
Senate approval came after months of intense discussion of how Congress could best have a voice in continuing negotiations between Washington, five other world powers andIran.
It was complicated by a dispute between Republicans and Democrats over a Republican invitation to Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu, a critic of the nuclear talks, to address Congress in March, and the April 1 indictment of one of the bill's original co-authors, Democratic Senator Robert Menendez.
Republican Tom Cotton, who angered the White House by sending a letter to Iran's leaders in March saying a nuclear deal would last only as long as Obama is in office, was the only senator who voted against the bill on Thursday.
Obama had long threatened a veto, saying the legislation threatened the talks. Negotiators have set a June 30 deadline for a final agreement in which Iran will curtail its nuclear program in exchange for relief from crippling sanctions.
But Obama agreed to sign a compromise version after many of his fellow Democrats backed the legislation, insisting Congress deserved a voice on a major international issue.
"Can you believe after all of this, there were 98 'yes' votes?" Republican Senator Bob Corker, the bill's lead author and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asked at a news conference after the vote.
During two weeks of debate in the Senate, the bill was threatened by a dispute among Republicans over amendments.
Its supporters said many of the 67 proposed amendments filed by Republicans would have killed the measure by alienating Democrats or prompting a veto. For example, 2016 presidential hopeful Marco Rubio wanted a nuclear deal to require that Iran recognize Israel's right to exist as a state.
In the end, none of the amendments was included in the bill. But it could still be changed in the House.