With less than a day to go until the Senate Foreign Relations Committee takes up contentious legislation viewed by the White House as potentially undermining a newly-negotiated nuclear framework deal with Iran, the panel’s top Democrat seemingly joined with Republicans in wishing the full Senate get to vote on the bill.
“It’s my desire … that we move on this tomorrow,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who became the committee’s ranking member when Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who is under federal indictment for suspected influence peddling, resigned from the position.
Since replacing Menendez — a strident opponent of how the Obama administration reached an agreement with Iran on the reduction of its stockpile of refined uranium in exchange for the loosening of sanctions — all eyes have been on Cardin as he negotiates the language of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, known colloquially as the Corker bill after its chief sponsor, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who chairs the influential committee.
This morning, during a roundtable with Maryland farmers and watermen, one of Cardin’s staffers slipped the senator a message: the White House had called.
“I’ve been in touch with the White House on a very regular basis since the Iran framework of April 2 was agreed to,” Cardin acknowledged. President Obama has repeatedly stated that he will reject the bill with its current language.
Corker and Cardin are in a complex dance trying to balance Republicans’ resistance — and some Democratic opposition, most notably from Sen. Charles Schumer of New York — to changing the bill with Democrats’ desire to be tough on Iran without being viewed as undermining the administration. Removing non-nuclear related language from the bill is one option on the table.
“We’re negotiating. We’re not there yet, but we’re negotiating,” Cardin said. He reiterated his support for congressional review, noting that only an act of Congress can lift sanctions on Iran.
The bill comes up for committee review tomorrow, though Politico reported that “vaguely defined” meeting time has also been set aside for Wednesday, which could allow expanded negotiations.
“This is important and we’re all going to try to put the objective first that Iran doesn’t become a nuclear weapon state,” said Cardin.
Meanwhile, this afternoon, the White House met with two groups of Jewish leaders, presumably to discuss their opposition to the Iran deal. According to a JTA report, the president and National Security Advisor Susan Rice were set to meet with top officials from the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and umbrella groups like the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Obama and Rice were then set to meet with “Jewish community leaders,” namely influential Democratic donors.
Melissa Apter is a reporter for WJW‘s sister paper, Baltimore Jewish Times.