It appears the opponents of Obama’s “Petunia” – the non-deal non-framework non-agreement which will theoretically be used to craft an actual “deal” on Iran’s nuclear program by the end of June – have drawn a map for the Obama administration to score a political triumph over them.
If the administration was previously in any doubt about what it needed to do to implement a “deal,” it no longer is. The Corker-Menendez bill, which passed out of committee today on a 19-0 vote, and reportedly is set to pass the full Senate, specifies that Congress must have 30 days to review the Iran deal before it is implemented.
If Congress rejects the Iran deal, and the president vetoes its legislation, Congress will have the balance of a 52-day period to override the veto. If the Senate finds itself unable to act, at some point in this process, Obama’s deal can be implemented without assent from the Senate.
To override a veto, of course, opponents will need 67 votes. To uphold a veto, Obama just has to make sure there are 34 votes for his deal. He doesn’t have to have even 51 votes to implement it. With 34, he’s got a major win.
The beauty of this for Obama is that he still gets a win if the Senate at any point can’t bring a floor vote. His deal just gets implemented because the Senate failed to act. So it won’t matter if the president has 34 votes for the Iran deal, but not enough to bring the deal to a vote. The win for Obama is merely less photogenic in that case. The effect is the same.
It appears that the White House thinks these are pretty good odds. That would be why it suddenly reversed course today on its view of the Corker-Menendez legislation.
Corker-Menendez is actually a boon for the administration, because it clarifies and freezes what Obama has to do to operate with a free hand.
The opponents of his Iran deal – whatever it turns out to be – will have a legitimate crack at overriding a veto, so the foreign policy process demanded by Congress will be served.
And that means Congress can’t then complain that procedure wasn’t followed. If opponents of the deal can’t muster 67 votes for a veto override, that’s it. No running to the courts afterward. No mutterings about impeachment – not, at least, because of the Iran deal. No continuing political momentum for deal opponents, if they want to switch to budgetary brinkmanship. That method will be no more effective than it has ever been, even if Ted Cruz steps up for another filibuster.
Corker-Menendez has set up the terms of victory to favor Obama, and favor him pretty heavily, at that.
Corker-Menendez will require a vote in the House too, so it’s not a done deal yet. But Senate opponents of the prospective Iran deal have just laid all their cards on the table. The Obama administration is in no doubt as to what’s left in the deck.
Of course, you might say, this is how our system works, so what else was the Senate supposed to do?
That depends on what its objective is. If the objective is to register political opposition, in the ordinary way, the Senate has probably done the best it can.
If the objective is to actually prevent Obama from pursuing his disastrous course – lifting sanctions on Iran; unilaterally changing U.S. relations with Iran’s radical regime, as he can justly be suspected of intending; paving Iran’s path to a bomb – then the Senate needs to recognize that the game here isn’t gentlemen’s poker. That is in large part because, sad to say, the Obama administration is not a gentleman.
The Republican Senate has not made a legislative error here, nor even so much a tactical error as an error of strategic perspective. The stakes and the cost of losing are too high to plan the strategy mechanically – conventionally – as if the worst that can happen is having to write an IOU. But that’s what the Senate is doing.
The wisest course for opponents would be to play their cards close to the vest for now, and not tip their hand, or show Obama exactly where they’ve planted the mines on the political battlefield. The Obama administration should, at the very least, have to guess what it’s trying to plan for, and worry about surprises.
There are measures short of impeachment that opponents could attempt. Obama doesn’t care about the defense budget, but he does care about the pork flow to his cronies. It would also build credibility for congressional naysaying if Congress could build some momentum in that regard: thwart Obama, genuinely and effectively, on other issues. A full-court press is the only thing that will stop a president who is determined to ignore Congress to the fullest extent he can get away with.
There may or may not be enough unity against a bad Iran deal in the Senate to bring such arm-twisting to bear. But we’ll never know for sure, because the Republican Senate has already tipped its hand. It’s not going to wage an offensive campaign of any kind to stop a bad Iran deal. Its plan, now fully previewed, is basically a giant pooch punt.
Most in the mainstream punditry don’t seem to see that yet. (I just saw George Will on Fox praising Bob Corker for a fine display of senatorial leadership.)
And it’s possible, at this hour when the center cannot hold, that by July 2015 we will all be asking, in the memorable words of our former secretary of state, “What difference, at this point, does it make?”