Congress Acts: Senate Passes Corker Bill

On May 7, the Senate passed legislation that would require Congress to approve and then vote on a final nuclear deal with Iran. The “Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015” passed 98-1 – only Tom Cotton (R-AR), a vocal opponent of the nuclear talks, voted against it.

The White House initially threatened to veto the bill when it was introduced in February, arguing that curbing the president’s powers could negatively impact negotiations. But President Obama backed off after the review period was shortened and the committee dropped the requirement for the president to certify that Iran has not been supporting or carrying out terrorist attacks against the United States or its citizens. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) played a key role in brokering the compromise between the Obama administration, Democrats and Republicans.

Republican Senators introduced more than 60 amendments to the bill over the past few weeks, but most were not brought to a vote. Majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) moved to close debate on the bill to prevent votes on amendments introduced by Cotton and Marco Rubio (R-FL) that threatened bipartisan consensus on the legislation, such as requiring that Iran recognize Israel. President Obama has stressed that he reserves the right to veto the bill if it is amended before passing the House and Senate.

The bill will now move to the House for consideration. The following is a summary of the legislation released by Senator Corker’s office.

Congressional Review: Within five days of concluding a comprehensive agreement with Iran, the president must submit to Congress (1) the text of the agreement and all related materials, (2) a verification assessment on Iranian compliance, and (3) a certification that the agreement meets U.S. non-proliferation objectives and does not jeopardize U.S. national security, including not allowing Iran to pursue nuclear-related military activities.

No Suspension of Congressional Sanctions During Review Period: The president is prohibited from suspending, waiving or otherwise reducing congressional sanctions for up to 52 days after submitting the agreement to Congress. Following an initial review period of 30 days, the legislation includes an additional 12 if Congress passes a bill and sends it to the president. If the president vetoes the legislation, Congress would have an additional 10 days to override a veto. If the deal is submitted after July 9, the review period increases to 82 days (60 days plus 12 days for the president to veto and 10 more days for Congress to override a veto). During this period, Congress may hold hearings and approve, disapprove or take no action on the agreement. Passage of a joint resolution of disapproval (over a presidential veto) within the review period would block the president from implementing congressional sanctions relief under the agreement.

Congressional Oversight and Iranian Compliance: After the congressional review period, the president would be required to provide an assessment to Congress every 90 days on Iran’s compliance with the agreement. In the event the president cannot certify compliance, or if the president determines there has been a material breach of the agreement, Congress could vote, on an expedited basis, to restore sanctions that had been waived or suspended under the agreement. It also requires the president to make a series of detailed reports to Congress on a range of issues, including Iran’s nuclear program, its ballistic missiles work, and its support for terrorism globally, particularly against Americans and our allies. With this information, Congress will be able to determine the appropriate response in the event of Iran sponsoring an act of terrorism against Americans.

Click here for the full text of the bill