What’s Happening In Congress: A Guide For The Perplexed (Updated)
Israelis watching the US Congress yesterday might have been a little bit confused — I know I was, and I live here.
Yesterday afternoon, Senate Democrats — the very same ones who agreed to the “compromise” Corker-Cardin legislation, legislation which, in exchange for giving Congress full access to the terms of the deal and the authority to vote on it, allows the President to get the JCPOA through with only enough support from one branch of Congress to sustain a Presidential veto of a resolution of disapproval — filibustered the deal. That means that although a minority of the Senate supports the deal, that minority was large enough to block a vote on it.
The Corker law was written to allow the JCPOA to pass if there was no vote, and by about 4:00 Eastern time pundits were starting to declare the death of the opposition to the deal. That’s when things got really interesting.
Senator Ted Cruz and National Review editor Andrew McCarthy have pointed out a previously overlooked aspect of the Corker legislation that could potentially still be used to sink the JCPOA. And, while Cruz’s colleagues in the Senate seemed unconcerned, several House members seem poised to exploit it.
The Corker law (also known as the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015) requires the President to submit the terms of the JCPOA in its entirety to Congress. There is no question that the President has failed to comply with this aspect of the law, as two secret side deals have still not been submitted to Congress.
Prior to the passage of the Corker law, the President had the power to waive many of the sanctions on Iran unilaterally. The Corker law, however, according to Cruz and McCarthy, suspends that power for the duration of the time between the day that the President reaches a deal with Iran and either the day that Congress votes on it, or the expiration of the time that Congress has to vote on it. Since the President failed to submit the whole deal to Congress, they argue, the clock on the time within which Congress must vote on the deal has not yet begun to run, leaving the President stuck in the time frame during which he is not allowed to waive or lift sanctions.
Yesterday afternoon, after the Senate’s filibuster, the House passed a resolution sponsored by Representative Mike Pompeo stating that the President was out of compliance with the Corker law. This could potentially be used for two purposes, one, to bring a lawsuit against the President to block the JCPOA, and two, to warn American banks that if they release Iran’s frozen assets, they could still be subjected to liability for doing so.
After that, the House began debate on two more bills, sponsored by Representatives Peter Roskam and Lee Zeldin. One would prohibit the President from temporarily waiving or otherwise lifting sanctions on Iran until January 21, 2017 (when there will be a new President in office), and the other would be a straight up-or-down vote on the JCPOA. Although both of these bills are likely to have little practical significance, the House debated them until 10PM Eastern time last night.
One thing is clear, if these Congressmen go down, they will go down fighting. Stay tuned.
Update, September 11, 3:00 PM:
Congress has held both votes mentioned above: one to prohibit the President from temporarily waiving or otherwise lifting sanctions on Iran until January 21, 2017, and the other a vote on approval of the JCPOA.
As expected, the vote to approve the JCPOA failed, but the Democrats who supported it are now on record.
As was also expected, the vote to prohibit the President from waiving or lifting sanctions on Iran passed. Without a corresponding vote in the Senate, however, it’s largely symbolic.
Republicans in the House have, however, laid the groundwork to attempt to enforce the Corker law and block the JCPOA in the courts.