Sen. Lindsey Graham said Monday that legislation to give Congress a say on any nuclear deal with Iran would easily pass the Senate by a veto-proof margin.
“I think there will be overwhelming bipartisan support for the concept that no congressional sanctions (on Iran) can be relieved permanently until we have a say through the disapproval process,” Graham, R-S.C., a possible presidential candidate, said in a speech in New York to the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan group of foreign policy experts.
“I think that makes eminent sense,” he said. “And it is what Congress should do with this president, or any other president.”
The legislation Graham supports, co-authored by Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., would allow the Senate a chance to disapprove any deal with Iran. Any subsequent, separate move to reject the deal would need votes from at least 60 lawmakers, or the Senate’s 54 Republicans and at least six Democrats.
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Graham said the 60-vote threshold is by design.
“Some fear that we would say no to everything Obama did, and I promise you there are people in the (Republican) party who will do that,” Graham said. “I’m not one of them, because a good deal is a godsend.”
Corker and Menendez have delayed a committee vote on their legislation until April 14.
The issue of whether Congress should have a say in an international deal on Iran’s nuclear capability has rocked Washington.
President Barack Obama has warned such intervention could undermine the ongoing negotiations and has threatened to veto the bill on congressional approval.
The U.S. and its allies are negotiating with Iran over whether to lift crippling economic sanctions in exchange for limits on the country’s nuclear program. They hope to reach a basic framework for a long-term deal by the end of the month.
If the Corker-Menendez bill also passes the House and becomes law, Graham said it could lead to greater bipartisanship in American foreign policy. But he’s already preparing for what would happen if Congress later rejects a deal with Iran.
“Hopefully, going forward we can start giving (Obama) support to continue to negotiate with the Iranians,” Graham said. “Not just saying no to the deal but urging him to go back with some idea as to what we think would be a good solution.”
Graham, a longtime defense hawk who tends to favor military intervention and more money for the Pentagon, said he would oppose allowing Iran to have anything but a small nuclear power program. Graham said he’ll seek the advice of experts and other leaders in the region to gauge their opinions on details of the agreement.
“If it is perceived by Israel and the Arabs as a bad deal... then I hope we all say that it is a bad deal,” Graham said.
He called Israel a “stakeholder” but said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should not have “veto” rights over a potential deal.
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, in a Monday speech in Washington, said the Obama administration is pursuing a deal that would prevent Iran from developing weapons-grade plutonium and include frequent inspections to make sure the country’s program is only for nuclear power. The bill calling for congressional approval, he said, “would torpedo diplomacy.”
“This legislation could cause the United States to be blamed if diplomacy fails,” McDonough said. “Additionally, it would set a damaging precedent by limiting the ability of future presidents to conduct essential diplomatic negotiations.”
Graham said the Iran negotiations are crucial to avoiding a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
“The nature and quality of the deal will shape world events more than any single event I can think of,” he said. “It is one of the most consequential decisions any administration, world organization or group of nations will make in my lifetime.”
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