Senator Barbara Mikulski announced this morning that she will vote for the Iran nuclear deal. This gives President Obama 34 supporters in the Senate. The Associated Press hails this announcement as a big win for President Obama:
President Barack Obama secured a landmark foreign policy victory Wednesday as Senate Democrats amassed enough votes to ensure the Iran nuclear deal survives in Congress, despite ferocious opposition from Republicans and the government of Israel.
Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland became the crucial 34th vote in favor of the agreement.
Under the Corker bill that Congress enacted in May, the president is barred from implementing the Iran deal if “the Congress adopts, and there is enacted, a joint resolution stating in substance that the Congress does not favor the agreement….” It is now expected that the House and Senate will both pass a joint resolution of disapproval, which Obama will veto. The veto apparently will be overridden in the House, so the focus has been on the Senate, where he needs 34 votes–the total he now has–to sustain the veto. So an overwhelming majority of Congress will have expressed its disapproval of the agreement, but it will nevertheless proceed. That is setting the bar for a “landmark foreign policy victory” very low.
Note, by the way, the key language “and there is enacted.” If Obama vetoes the joint resolution, it won’t be enacted. I assume this language was included in order to secure bipartisan support for the Corker bill, which passed the Senate 98-1.
With hindsight, was the Corker bill a good idea? Was Tom Cotton, the only senator who voted against the bill, prescient? I asked Marco Rubio this question a week or two ago while guest hosting the Laura Ingraham radio show. Rubio, whose foreign policy credentials are second to none, emphatically rejected that suggestion. Among other things, he said, Congress may never have gotten complete information about what is in the agreement without the Corker bill, which included detailed disclosure requirements.
That point is well taken. Still, it is galling to have a Congressional vote that resoundingly rejects the deal trumpeted as a victory for the administration. In the absence of the Corker bill, Congress could simply have passed a resolution of disapproval. That wouldn’t have blocked the deal, which is an executive agreement, but it wouldn’t have been hailed as a “landmark foreign policy victory” for the administration, either.
After Mikulski’s announcement, Lindsey Graham tweeted:
The Iranians have now secured enough Senate votes to ensure they have a pathway to a bomb, missile to deliver it, & money to pay for it.
— Lindsey Graham (@GrahamBlog) September 2, 2015
His characterization is harsh but, I think, accurate.