Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D., Nev.) ongoing refusal to permit a vote on new Iran sanctions legislation is drawing the ire of the majority of senators who support the bill.
The White House has been scrambling in recent weeks to kill a bipartisan Iran sanctions bill that has already garnered the support of 59 senators, including 16 Democrats and all but two Republicans.
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The bill proposed by Sens. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) and Bob Menendez (R., N.J.) would level harsh economic penalties on Tehran if it fails to comply with the statutes of a recently inked nuclear accord.
Though a majority of senators, including many Democrats, support the legislation, the White House has mobilized its congressional supporters, including Reid, to obstruct the legislation.
At least 77 senators would likely vote in favor of the bill were it brought to a vote, according to Senate insiders.
However, Reid holds all the cards in the Senate, deciding whether or not a specific piece of legislation can come to the floor for an up or down vote.
"Sen. Reid’s refusal to allow a vote on this important, commonsense proposal becomes harder to explain with each passing day," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) told the Washington Free Beacon.
"It's also a perfect illustration of how his unilateral approach to running the Senate doesn't just prevent Republicans from pursuing legislation but Democrats too," said McConnell, who has been pressing for a vote on the bill. "If the White House opposes this bill, it’s free to make the case."
It is nearly unprecedented for a majority leader to obstruct a bill that has garnered the widespread support of those within his own party.
"One of the reasons the ‘Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act’ has gained so much bipartisan support in recent weeks is that the goal of the bill is so hard to argue with," McConnell said. "There’s good reason to believe sanctions helped bring the Iranians to the negotiating table in the first place, and raising the prospect of additional sanctions is one of the best tools we have to ensure they uphold the commitment they made under the interim agreement in November."
Reid has promised that if the sanctions bill garnered bipartisan support that he would bring it to a vote. However, Reid told reporters late Tuesday that he will "wait and see how the issue played out" before making a decision on the sanctions bill, according to the Washington Examiner.
Reid stressed that he was trying to be "fair" in his decision-making—though his aides have made it clear that the sanctions bill will not come to a vote before President Barack Obama’s Jan. 28 State of the Union address.
"At this stage, I think we're where we should be" with the bill, Reid was quoted as saying on Tuesday by the Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin.
Top Republicans and Senate insiders close to the sanctions bill say there is nothing fair about Reid’s approach, which they believe is being orchestrated by the White House.
"It's pretty ironic that Harry Reid went nuclear to stop a minority of senators from blocking legislation and now he's blocking a majority of senators who want to stop Iran from going nuclear," said one senior Senate aide working on the sanctions bill.
Other Capitol Hill insiders familiar with Reid’s actions say that his deference to the White House’s political concerns could permit Iran to cross the nuclear threshold.
"Reid may think he’s doing the White House a favor by blocking and tackling for their agenda all day, but he needs to realize that in this case the potential consequences of his leadership style are catastrophic," said one senior GOP aide on Capitol Hill. "Limiting amendments on an infrastructure bill is one thing. Blocking an effort to keep Iran from going nuclear is something else entirely."
As a vote on the bill is delayed, some worry that economic penalties on Tehran will be rendered ineffective.
"The Menendez-Kirk bill garnered overwhelming support from both sides of the aisle in the Senate. It's really unprecedented in light of how divided Congress has been under this administration, but the longer Majority Leader Reid stalls it in his chamber, I'm curious to see if support for the bill will fall apart," said another senior Senate aide tracking the legislation.
"The bill gives the Obama administration 180 days before sanctions are implemented, but this 180 days doesn't reflect the time in which this bill will wait for a vote," the source explained. "Should Reid and the president stall a vote on it for, let's say six months, are members going to be OK with sanctions not taking effect until well into 2015, when our intelligence warned Iran could have achieved not only a nuclear weapon but the means to launch it?"
Other insiders working on the sanctions issue believe that Reid could eventually crack under the mounting pressure.
"Given the ever-growing bipartisan support, I think we could see the sanctions legislation come to the floor as early as the end of this month," said one pro-Israel activist involved in advancing sanctions legislation.
"The White House may oppose it, but the overwhelming majority of the American people and the overwhelming majority of the Senate want to see this bill pass," said the source. "The question is: To whom is Sen. Reid listening?"
Reid has a history of obstructing the minority party and holding up legislation for political reasons.
He permitted Senate Republicans just four amendment votes since last summer, a number that is particularly low even for a Congress that has not passed much legislation.
Democrats in the House, where Republicans hold control, have been permitted 71 votes.