Is Corker-Menendez worse than nothing?

National Journal reports that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell moved yesterday to end debate on the Corker-Menendez bill, shortening what he had hoped would be an open amendment process out of concern that some “poison pill” amendment votes could potentially sink it. “We’re going to move quickly,” Senator McConnell explained.

National Review’s Joel Gehrke explored the procedural maneuvering:

After Senator Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) and Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) tried to force votes on amendments that would, respectively, require Iran to close its nuclear facilities and recognize the legitimacy of the state of Israel, Democrats refused to grant unanimous consent to proceed to vote on any amendments.

This put McConnell in a time crunch; the rules of the Senate allow him to call up any amendment after 30 hours of debate, but doing that several times over could consume weeks of legislative time.

Gehrke’s take derives from comments made to him by Senator John Thune, the chairman of the Republican conference. Senator Thune elaborated on McConnell’s expected move to shut down the process and bring the Corker-Menendez bill to a vote:

“It’s just the coin of the realm in the Senate is floor time and we’ve got [a trade promotion authority bill],” Senator John Thune (R., S.D.), the chairman of the Republican conference, tells National Review. “We’ve got the FISA deadline coming up at the end of the month; we’ve got the highway [bill] deadline coming up at the end of the month; there’s just a lot of stuff that we need to try and transact and, you know, you could stay on this thing indefinitely but I’m not sure what that really gets you.”

The need to pass those bills apparently means that not even the hope of embarrassing Democrats who don’t want votes on amendments pertaining to Israel could induce GOP leadership to keep debating the Iran bill.

And Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) opposes the trade bill, meaning he has an incentive to slow down the process on the Iran amendments. “I just think it’s a function of time and schedule and trying to get as much done as you can,” Thune says.

In the spirit of the Oxford literary journal, I want to offer the a few Notes & Queries. In the process of defending Corker-Menendez and disparaging its GOP critics, Jennifer Rubin argued last week at her Washington Post/Right Turn site: “Senator McConnell has promised regular order in the Senate and there is no reason to make an exception here.” (Commenting yesterday on the procedural developments that will bring Corker-Menendez to a vote on Thursday, Jennifer Rubin elides this point that she made only last week.)

That was then, this is now. To push Corker-Menendez through, Senator McConnell is, as I understand it, short-circuiting the amendment process. It would be one thing to do that to disadvantage Democrats. But to stiff-arm Republicans who have a point?

Is Corker-Menendez better than nothing? Is it worse than nothing? Or is it, as Paul argues, simply nothing? That is the question of substance here.

The fundamental problem with Corker-Menendez is the sense in which it turns the Constitution on its head. Majorities in both the House and the Senate oppose the likely deal President Obama is about to enter into with Iran as an executive agreement, yet the majority falls short of the two-thirds vote that will be required to override an Obama veto opposing the deal.

Without Corker-Menendez, however, Congress will be cut out of any review of the deal and will have no vehicle to vote on it. Jennifer Rubin makes a few other points incidental to the merits.

Senator McConnell’s professed devotion to regular order could have killed the bill. Letting the bill die on this ground would be a good, nonsubstantive reason for its death.

The dissenting Republican senators must take the view that Corker-Menendez is worse than nothing. So far as I am aware, however, neither Senator Rubio nor Cotton, has expressly made this argument. (I took a close look at Senator Cotton’s comments expressing his limited support of the bill here.)

Senators Rubio and Cotton, who take the brunt of Jennifer Rubin’s criticism, have tapped into a creative vein to improve or oppose Corker-Menendez. Senator Rubio’s proposed amendment requiring the final agreement to include the terms put forth in the White House’s own description of the framework agreement deserves special recognition. When I ask myself what would Churchill do, I think he would proceed much as Senators Cotton has, going back to his open letter to the Supreme Leader et al.

Corker-Menendez will allow a majority in Congress to review and oppose to the utterly humiliating arrangement in process with Iran, even if the failure of Congress to override Obama’s veto will confuse the issue.

Yet Corker-Menendez is problematic at best. President Obama refuses to submit the arrangement in process to the Senate as a treaty. Congress can’t make him do it, even if by tradition he should. Corker-Menendez gives Congress a role, but it inverts the constitutional sense of the matter.

How do you solve a problem like Obama? I don’t have the answer, and neither does Corker-Menendez.

The first obligation of the federal government is to provide for our national security. There is no national security issue more salient than the catastrophic arrangement in process with Iran. The stated rationale of Republican leadership concerning the need to move on does not pass muster. I take it as a procedural argument masquerading as support for the bill.


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