Menendez Threatens to Scuttle Key Pro-Israel Bill

Senator threatens to pull AIPAC-backed bill over Iran oversight measure

May 19, 2014

Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) is threatening to scuttle a newly authored Senate measure that would give lawmakers a final say on any deal the Obama administration strikes with Iran over its contested nuclear program, according to Senate insiders tracking the debate.

Menendez is seeking to stop a vote on a new measure authored by Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) that would give Congress the authority to reject any agreement signed between the Obama administration and Iran regarding its nuclear program.

Corker’s measure is being offered as an amendment to the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act, a key pro-Israel initiative that would designate Israel as a "major strategic partner" of the United States and boost military and intelligence ties between the nations.

The Iran measure seeks to prevent a scenario in which the Obama administration bypasses Congress, much like it did before signing the interim nuclear accord that significantly rolled back sanctions on Iran.

Menendez is said to be "so worried" about Corker’s Iran amendment that he is threatening to pull the entire bill, which is one of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) top congressional priorities, according to Senate sources tracking the bill.

"Sen. Menendez is so worried about this amendment coming to a vote in the committee that he is threatening to pull the entire bill," said one senior Senate aide. "It is hard to see how simply requiring congressional review of any final deal with Iran is a difficult call for Democrats or Republicans, especially given this administration's track record of obfuscation and shifting goalposts with respect to the negotiations."

A Menendez spokesman did not respond to multiple requests for comment from the Washington Free Beacon.

The dispute over giving Congress authority on the Iran deal could deal a critical blow to the strategic partnership act, which AIPAC has been lobbying on in recent months.

This forces AIPAC to either get behind Corker's new amendment, jeopardizing months of work on the larger U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership bill, or back Menendez and lobby members to strip the amendment from the bill.

AIPAC was reported to have backed off a lobbying blitz on a similar type of Iran amendment earlier this year.

Asked on Monday if it would support Corker’s new measure, an AIPAC source told the Free Beacon that Congress must be given oversight over any potential deal with Iran.

"AIPAC supports provisions such as the Corker Amendment which underscore the key role that Congress must play in defining the terms of an acceptable deal and its implementation," said the AIPAC source.

AIPAC is likely to come out in favor of the Corker amendment should it be included in the final version of the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act, according to one source familiar with discussions about the bill.

"If the 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," according to the insider.

While AIPAC was initially rumored to have taken a stance against Corker’s measure, the source made clear that this is not the case.

"The notion AIPAC in any way applied pressure to stop this bill is categorically false," the source said.

AIPAC, however, explained to key lawmakers that if the Corker measure ends up in the larger bill, "it would obviously make it more problematic for the bill to pass."

"It’s very important for AIPAC in the coming months to have Congress assert its role in determining the terms of a final agreement" with Iran, added the source. "AIPAC certainly does not oppose the Corker amendment and in fact supports that approach."

Corker’s amendment would give Congress the authority to hold a "vote of disapproval" on any accord reached between the United States and Iran.

"We’re not adding any sanctions, we’re not involving ourselves in the negotiations, we just want to be able to weigh in on it. So it doesn’t impede their ability to negotiate," Corker told the Daily Beast last week. "This is the only opportunity for Congress to have an opportunity to weigh in on the negotiations."

The measure is pared down version of a recent bill by Menendez and Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) that would have applied greater economic sanctions to Tehran if negotiations with the West failed.

AIPAC had initially backed the bill but ultimately pulled its support under pressure from the Obama administration and other Democrats. The bitter fight over the bill led many pro-Israel activists to express frustration with the lobbying giant.

Some foreign policy observers expressed confusion over the opposition to Corker’s amendment, which one former GOP Captiol Hill aide described as "modest yet prudent in scope."

"By requiring the president to formally submit any comprehensive agreement with Iran to Congress, the amendment would prevent the Executive Branch from hiding the final deal’s text from the public," said the former aide. "It’s scandalous that the Obama administration has somehow succeeded in keeping secret the text of the interim Iranian nuclear deal’s implementing agreement in January 2014, even though the implementing agreement is itself completely unclassified."

Corker’s amendment also is non-binding, which means that the administration would not be legally forced to abide by its ruling.

"The Corker amendment proposes an up-or-down vote on any final nuclear deal with Iran, but in its current form appears to frame that up-or-down vote as non-binding," explained the source. "If the Obama administration and its supporters in Congress are already afraid of a non-binding vote on a final nuclear deal with Iran, then that suggests that the deal really could end up being as bad as its detractors say."