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House lawmakers are lashing out at their Senate counterparts over the upper chamber’s failure to pass tighter Iran sanctions before Congress recesses.
With only two weeks left on the legislative calendar, congressional insiders say that a new Iran sanctions measure currently under consideration by the Senate is all but dead in the water.
Senate Democratic leaders appear poised to give in to White House demands that no new sanctions be imposed on Iran for the rest of the year and likely through most of 2014.
The two key avenues that senators could use to push through new sanctions—the Senate Banking Committee and the annual defense authorization bill—appear to have been shut down by the White House’s Democratic allies.
The situation has proved frustrating to House lawmakers who overwhelmingly voted months ago to approve a new Iran sanctions measure only to see it stall in the Senate under White House pressure.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R., Minn.) described the congressional tug of war as “reprehensible” and a “tragedy.” She urged her Senate colleagues to stop taking marching orders from the White House when it comes to the Iranian nuclear situation.
Bachmann went on to praise Sens. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) for authoring an Iran sanctions measure that could be offered as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a yearly defense-spending bill that must be approved before lawmakers leave town.
However, it remains unlikely that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) will allow the amendment to come to a vote.
Bachmann said that lawmakers should insist that new sanctions are approved before they leave for the holidays.
“It’s very important we send a very strong signal in the Middle East that the U.S. will not stand for Iran undercutting our words on not obtaining a nuclear weapon,” she told the Free Beacon. “The president, unfortunately, has already sent the signal that he would willingly abide by Iran enriching uranium.”
“This is our first president who has truly made a decision to be truly anti-Israel,” Bachmann said, referring to the Israeli government’s opposition to the nuclear accord.
Rep. Peter Roskam (R., Ill,), the GOP chief deputy whip and co-chair of the Republican Israel Caucus, slammed Senate Democrats for following the White House as Iran continues to enrich uranium.
“The Senate Democratic leadership’s capitulation to White House demands to ease pressure on Iran is deeply disappointing,” Roskam told the Washington Free Beacon. “This has long been a unifying issue for Congress, and even today, prominent voices in both parties in the House and the Senate agree that action must be taken to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions at all costs.”
“The Senate’s refusal to consider House-passed sanctions legislation significantly weakens U.S. negotiation leverage with Iran,” he said. “Unfortunately, some Senate leaders are choosing not to follow through on their long-held commitment to take every necessary step to prevent a nuclear Iran.”
Congressional insiders with knowledge of the sanctions debate blamed the White House and Senate Democratic leadership for ignoring the will of the majority of Congress.
“The American people deserve an up-or-down vote before senators go home for recess; the majority leader shouldn't let the White House bully the Senate into silence,” said one senior Senate aide who is closely tracking the sanctions amendment. “If Democrats wanted this to become law, it would be on its way to the president's desk—we deserve action, not illusory deals that go nowhere.”
A senior House GOP aide involved in the sanctions debate said that “every House effort to ratchet up pressure on Iran is met with a big middle finger from the White House and Senate leadership.”
“They continue to block sanctions legislation at every turn in an attempt to appease the Iranian regime,” the aide told the Free Beacon, echoing frustration felt by many in the House. “The fact that the Senate won't even consider a bill that passed the House 400-20 means the Obama administration is, sadly, successfully driving a partisan stake in the heart of one of the few bipartisan issues in Washington.”
Even if the Senate approves the sanctions measure as an amendment to the NDAA, it would require that the House remain in Washington, D.C., to reconcile the two measures before being finalized.
However, this scenario is unlikely, as most House members will leave town at the end of this week when their legislative year comes to an end.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) lashed out at Reid late Tuesday for jamming up the Senate with needless votes.
The Senate should be discussing “the defense bill and open it up to amendments, as we always have in the past,” McConnell was quoted as saying by Politico. “I question the way the Senate is being run.”
“We're spending weeks on nominations, none of which is an emergency," he reportedly said.
The Senate Banking Committee, which was seen as an alternate route for a sanctions bill, also will avoid taking up the issue, according to Politico.
“The president and Secretary Kerry have made a strong case for a pause in congressional action on new Iran sanctions, so I am inclined to support their request and hold off on committee action for now," Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D., S.D.) told Politico Tuesday.