Dems Kill Key Pro-Israel bill to Appease White House on Iran

Pull pro-Israel bill over Iran oversight language

May 20, 2014

The fallout from a rushed, late night decision by a leading Democrat to scuttle key pro-Israel legislation in a bid to appease the Obama administration threatens to complicate efforts by Democrats to hold on to the Senate, according to sources on Capitol Hill and in the pro-Israel community.

Senate Democrats led by Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) pulled from the foreign relations committee’s agenda Monday evening a major piece of pro-Israel legislation known as the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act, which would have bolstered defense and intelligence ties between the two nations.

Menendez called off the vote in order to prevent Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) from introducing an amendment that would grant Congress a final say on any deal the Obama administration strikes with Iran regarding its contested nuclear program, according to congressional aides.

Sixty-nine percent of likely voters support congressional oversight on a nuclear deal, according to a poll released by the Israel Project.

Corker’s measure is opposed by the White House, which seeks to bypass Congress in order to push through a controversial deal with Iran that would fully lift economic sanctions in exchange for nuclear concessions.

Corker’s Iran oversight measure would have put Senate Democrats in a tricky political position, forcing them to choose between the White House and the pro-Israel community just months before critical mid-term elections.

Senior officials in the pro-Israel community warned that Menendez’s efforts to insulate his fellow Democrats from taking a politically inconvenient vote will be remembered come November.

"How many more times is this president going to force Senate Democrats to walk the plank for his failed policies?" asked one official with a Washington, D.C.-based pro-Israel group who requested anonymity.

"They already have to defend Obamacare on domestic policy. They already have to defend Benghazi. And now he's asking them to run interference on appeasing Iran," said the official. "How many seats do the Democrats have to lose before the president stops punishing them for his terrible judgment?"

The U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act has been a major legislative item for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the nation’s leading pro-Israel group, which has top members in town this week lobbying congressional offices on the bill.

While AIPAC told the Washington Free Beacon yesterday that it supports Corker’s measure. The group declined multiple times to comment on Menendez’s move to pull the entire piece of legislation.

It is unclear what the group’s strategy will be now that its key legislative item has been put on ice.

"If the [Corker] amendment were offered, AIPAC would certainly not oppose it and has told other members in leadership in the [Senate Foreign Relations Committee] that it would support the amendment if offered," one insider familiar with AIPAC’s position told the Free Beacon on Monday, hours before Menendez officially pulled the bill.

As Menendez fights to keep the Corker measure from coming to a vote, he and Sen. Mark Kirk's (R., Ill.) stalled bill to level greater sanctions on Iran continues to garner Senate support.

The bill—which fell apart after the White House launched a massive bid to kill the legislation—attracted 60 co-sponsors, a key threshold of support, when Sen. John Walsh (D., Mont.) signed on in late April.

Senate insiders said the ongoing Democratic support for a bill that is effectively dead sends a strong signal that there is growing unease over the Obama administration’s strategy on Iran.

Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah), a former member of the foreign relations committee, expressed shock that Menendez would pull the entire pro-Israel bill in order to prevent a tough vote on Corker’s measure.

"It’s indicative of the way this place is running right now under Democratic leadership," Lee told the Free Beacon on Tuesday. "The senate has become an amendment free zone. It’s a dangerous and troubling trend."

Lee, who said he supports Corker’s amendment, maintained that the Obama administration should not be permitted to skirt Congress as it did when the interim nuclear agreement was signed last year.

"We can’t just accept this answer forever, that, ‘We’re working on this and its going to be awesome so trust us,’" he said. "At some point we need to see text."