Senate Democrats filibuster vote on nuclear agreement, House rejects deal

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), the lone Jewish Republican in Congress, co-sponsored legislation to prohibit the president from removing nuclear-related sanctions on Iran.
Photo by Melissa Apter

Republicans vowed to bring the Iran nuclear agreement to a vote again this week after Senate Democrats held firm to their previously announced positions and blocked a resolution of disapproval on Sept. 10.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) filed again for cloture last Thursday a mere minutes after a procedural vote fell two votes short of the 60 needed to cut off debate and proceed to final passage. Forty-two Democrats and Independents who caucus with them successfully filibustered. All 54 Republicans who oppose the deal held ranks and were joined by four Democrats: Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), and Jewish lawmakers Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

As of press time, the next vote was set up for Tuesday evening.

McConnell lambasted Senate Democrats for blocking “a real vote on one of the most consequential foreign policy issues of our age.”

“If the president is so proud of this deal, then he shouldn’t be afraid. He should wield his veto pen with pride and explain his rationale to the American people,” said McConnell.

President Barack Obama, who made multiple overtures to the American Jewish community prior to the Senate vote, said in a statement, “This vote is a victory for diplomacy, for American national security, and for the safety and security of the world.”

Secretary of State John Kerry, who served as the United States’ chief negotiator during the P5+1 talks with Iran, called the Senate vote “an important step forward” toward implementation of a deal which he maintained would make the United States and its allies in the Middle East stronger.

“I know that for many of my former colleagues, this decision was extremely difficult, but I am convinced that the benefits of the agreement far outweigh any potential drawbacks,” said Kerry.

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the minority leader, said, “The senate has spoken with a clarion voice … and said this nuclear agreement will stand.”

Reid declared that this decision was final. Any future attempts to vote will be a “waste of time” and lead to further “disarray.”
McConnell, who noted that the majority leader always gets the last word, said, “The issue is not over. The Democratic leader saying the issue is over doesn’t make it over.”

He added: “This agreement is a metaphor for all the mistakes this president has made.”

American Jewish organizations in opposition to the deal, most notably the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, released statements criticizing the filibuster.

“While the American people deserved a direct up or down vote on the resolution of disapproval, the 58 senators who spoke out against the agreement and voted to invoke cloture succeeded in their effort to express opposition to the deal,” AIPAC said in a statement. The pro-Israel group urged the senators who blocked the vote to reconsider.

Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition took a strong tone, saying in a statement, “This vote shows that most Democrats have chosen to stand with President Obama over the American people and Israel. Sadly, the chasm between Republican and Democrat support for our national security and greatest ally has never been larger.”

J Street, which backed the president’s foreign policy initiative and spent millions campaigning in support of the deal, cheered the actions of Democratic senators.

“As strong supporters of the Iran nuclear agreement, J Street is pleased that President Obama will not be required to exercise his veto power in order to move forward with its implementation,” J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami said in a statement. “The wide and vocal backing the President has received from his party in Congress has sent a clear message to the world that the United States is ready and able to honor its international commitments.”

Meanwhile in the House, a resolution introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) and the lone Jewish Republican in Congress, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) that said that the president had not complied with a section of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act passed by a vote of 245 to 186 on Sept. 10.

Zeldin told Washington Jewish Week, “The 60-day review is not triggered under the law until we see the side deals” between the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran.

“I don’t see any way to possibly support a deal built on verification without knowing what the verification is,” Zeldin said.

“Those side deals are not insignificant. They may be the most important part of the deal.”

Last Friday, the House voted on a resolution approving the Iran deal. It was rejected 162 to 269 with 25 Democrats joining their Republican colleagues. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) voted present on the approval resolution.

The same day, the House passed a measure — also co-sponsored by Zeldin — by a vote of 247 to 186 that prevents Obama from removing nuclear-related sanctions on Iran. Two Democrats joined Republicans on that vote. It was unknown as of press time whether the Senate would take up the bill.

Said Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio), “Never in our history has something with so many consequences for our national security been rammed through with such little support.”

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