What's in that Iran bill and why all the fuss about it?

Willie Grace | 4/14/2015, 12:32 p.m.
On Tuesday, the committee will consider amendments to Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker's Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act before deciding ...
Two Western diplomats told CNN Thursday that the parties are narrowing in on 6,000 centrifuges, down from the 6,500 that had been under discussion.

If the Corker-Menendez bill becomes law and a deal is finalized, Obama wouldn't be able to lift the congressional sanctions for at least 60 days.

During that 60-day review phase, the bill says Obama can't "waive, suspend, reduce, provide relief from, or otherwise limit the application of statutory sanctions."

How can Obama waive sanctions passed by Congress anyway?

The biggest sanctions package approved by Congress, widely credited with crippling Iran's economy and bringing the country to the negotiating table, was the 2010 Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act.

It included a provision that gives the President leverage to waive sanctions for a limited time if he determines it's in the U.S. national security interest.

He wouldn't be able to permanently sunset the sanctions, though, unless Iran cuts its ties with and stops funding terror organizations around the world, an aspect not being addressed in the current negotiations with Iran and not predicted to happen any time soon.

The administration says sanctions are where Congress could eventually weigh in on the Iran deal -- by repealing them -- but that would only happen if lawmakers deem the deal a good one.

How would Congress weigh in during the 60-day review period?

Congress could pass a joint resolution approving of the deal or disapproving of the deal and forbidding any sanctions relief. Or it could do nothing, allowing Obama to implement the sanctions, and by implication the deal, after the 60 days are up.

A joint resolution disapproving of the deal would need to muster a two-thirds majority, though, to override the veto Obama has promised -- an unlikely, but not entirely unthinkable, scenario.

Are there other reasons that Obama opposes this bill?

There are a couple.

First, he's facing a combative, Republican majority in both houses of Congress. Those Republicans have sought to undermine his negotiations with Iran at every turn. Giving those lawmakers a legislative avenue to slam the terms of an eventual deal would, at best, be a political blow to Obama and his administration's efforts to broker an agreement.

There's also the White House's argument that the executive branch has the power to broker international agreements without Congress meddling, while congressional oversight of the Iran deal would set a dangerous precedent. Most international agreements aren't treaties ratified by Congress, and Obama has argued that U.S. allies need to know they can count on those agreements holding up.

So who's backing the Corker-Menendez bill?

Virtually every Senate Republican supports the bill and nine Democrats have signed on as co-sponsors, including independent Sen. Angus King, who caucuses with Democrats. Several more on the left are leaning toward supporting the bill.

That means backers will likely pass the bill with a filibuster-proof majority. It's unclear, though, if they can muster enough Democrats willing to vote to override Obama's veto.

It's not just the numbers, though. Some powerful Democrats are supporting the legislation. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Senate Democrat, who will become the chamber's Democratic leader when Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada retires at the end of his term, is a big proponent of the legislation.

Menendez, of New Jersey, who has been working to rally Democrats around legislation on Iran throughout the negotiations, remains the most vocal Democrat on the issue. He was the top-ranked Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee until stepping aside to face corruption charges handed down earlier in the month.

Also, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, one of the earliest Obama backers during the 2008 campaign, has been insistent on the need for Congress to weigh in and has worked behind the scenes to make Corker's bill more palatable to Democrats -- and the White House. But so far that effort hasn't succeeded, as the White House remains opposed.

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