Key Dems Waver on New
Iran Sanctions Bill

UPDATE: Schumer says he will co-sponsor Menendez sanctions legislation

Charles Schumer, Robert Menendez

Charles Schumer, Robert Menendez / AP

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UPDATE 4:58 P.M.: Following initial publication this report, Schumer spokeswoman Meredith Kelly told the Washington Free Beacon in an email that the senator "plans to co-sponsor Sen. Menendez’s new sanction legislation when it is introduced."

Kelly did not respond to subsequent questions about why Schumer had not already signed on to co-sponsor the legislation, which has been public and in the works for months. Kelly did not specify if Schumer would sign onto the legislation that will be up for a vote in the Senate Banking Committee later this week, which Menendez may not back.

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Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) is poised to file new Iran sanctions legislation on Monday with or without the support of key Democrats who have backed the bill in the past, including Sens. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) and Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), according to sources familiar with the ongoing negotiations.

New sanctions on Iran have become a political hot-button issue on Capitol Hill in recent weeks, with the White House and top Democrats launching a full-court press to prevent the bill from coming to a vote.

President Barack Obama has already vowed to veto the legislation if it passes, citing concerns that Iran will abandon negotiations with the United States over its contested nuclear program.

The White House’s aggressive campaign to derail the bill appears to be bearing fruit.

Menendez, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s ranking member and key Democratic voice backing new sanctions, is now hinting that he may rally Democrats to delay a vote until March.

Meanwhile, Schumer has signaled to reporters that he intends to "cosponsor the bill," though multiple attempts to confirm this information with his office were not returned. Schumer supported past versions of the sanctions bill that never came to a vote in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

When former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) killed sanctions legislation last year, Schumer offered tough rhetoric in support of the bill.

"The bottom line is very simple. It’s pretty logical that it’s sanctions, tough sanctions that brought them to the table," he said in December 2013. "If they think they can ease up on the sanctions without getting rid of their nuclear capabilities, they’re– they’re going to do that. So we have to be tough."

However, now that new Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) has promised a vote on the bill, Democrats such as Schumer have avoided speaking out.

Like Schumer, Menendez’s office also maintained radio silence when contacted Sunday and Monday about his support for the new sanctions bill.

Kirk’s office also declined to comment.

A source with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the nation’s most prominent pro-Israel lobbying outfit, confirmed that Kirk is "likely" to introduce the new sanctions bill Monday and that it will head to a vote in the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday.

AIPAC supports the sanctions legislation, according to the source.

Supporters of new sanctions argue that they are key to maintaining pressure on Iran and keeping the country negotiating in good faith. The bill, rather than immediately imposing new sanctions, would only become effective if the United States and Iran fail to reach a final deal by late March.

Sources familiar with the process said that timing is critical to ensure the sanctions are effective. If Menendez and other Democrats delay a vote on the bill until the end of March, senators will not be able to revive the legislation until April 13, when Congress returns to Washington after a two-week break.

This would effectively prevent the Senate from passing any new sanctions until talks with Iran are scheduled to end, a move that dampens the benefits of new penalties.

Menendez told The Hill that he would only introduce and back the bill "when he’s ready," leaving the door open for Kirk to go at it alone.

Menendez is said to be circulating a letter to fellow Democrats advocating in favor of delaying a vote on new sanctions.

It will not be entirely clear which senators are supporting the bill until an official list is released later this week.

One senior Senate aide complained that the chaotic situation with new sanctions is due to Obama’s missteps at the negotiating table with Iran.

"We of course wouldn't be having this discussion if this administration hadn't negotiated away its best card up front," the source said. "They shouldn't have lifted the sanctions before reaching a deal."

"If sanctions were what brought them to the table—and I think that's true—why remove the sanctions as soon as they get there, but before a deal?" the source asked. "They took a situation where they could have been negotiating from strength—holding a card the other side needed—to one of weakness. It should not have happened."

Senior State Department officials told Congress last week that the administration’s goal in talks is to delay Iran from producing a nuclear weapon by about a year. The White House is less interested in dismantling Iran’s program in full and has said that Tehran could retain some of its infrastructure to enrich uranium, the key component in a nuclear weapon.

Adam Kredo   Email Adam | Full Bio | RSS
Adam Kredo is senior writer for the Washington Free Beacon. Formerly an award-winning political reporter for the Washington Jewish Week, where he frequently broke national news, Kredo’s work has been featured in outlets such as the Jerusalem Post, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and Politico, among others. He lives in Maryland with his comic books. His Twitter handle is @Kredo0. His email address is kredo@freebeacon.com.

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