Senate Republicans Move To Require Congressional Approval for New Iran Deal

Bill is last-ditch effort to stop Biden from awarding Iran with billions of dollars in sanctions relief

Mohammed Javad Zarif and John Kerry in 2016 (Don Emmert/AFP via Getty Images)
June 11, 2021

Senate Republicans introduced on Friday legislation that would require President Joe Biden to obtain congressional approval before he signs any new nuclear deal with Iran, according to a copy of that bill obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

While Senate Republicans stand little chance of forcing the bill through a Democrat-controlled chamber, the measure represents a last-ditch effort by GOP hawks to stop the Biden administration from granting Iran billions of dollars in cash windfalls and sanctions relief. The bill also caps months of Republican maneuvering in both chambers of Congress to block the administration's ongoing diplomacy with Iran.

The State Department on Thursday took the unilateral step of removing sanctions on several former Iranian officials and businesses, leading to speculation that a deal is on the horizon. State Department spokesman Ned Price slapped down such speculation, telling reporters there is "absolutely no connection" between negotiations and the decision to roll back sanctions. While senior Biden administration officials vowed earlier in the year that sanctions relief would not be provided until Iran agrees to significantly roll back its nuclear program, ongoing talks in Vienna have stalled. Iranian officials have been clear in their demand that all sanctions levied by the Trump administration be removed as a precondition for a revamped nuclear deal.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) and 21 of his GOP colleagues are spearheading the bill, which says that any deal reached by the Biden administration must be considered a treaty and be brought before the Senate for approval. Treaties must be ratified by two-thirds of the Senate, meaning that Democrats would not have the votes needed to pass it given their razor-thin majority. The Obama administration avoided bringing the original nuclear agreement before the Senate for ratification as a treaty because of concerns it would fail to garner enough votes.

The bill also sends a message to Iran: Without congressional approval, any deal inked by the Biden administration stands little chance of surviving into the next Republican White House. The Trump administration nixed the original 2015 deal in 2018 with little resistance since it was not a treaty. A future Republican administration could do the same, meaning that any sanctions relief granted by Biden's team has little chance of standing the test of time.

"President Reagan was right when he said you achieve peace through strength. Unfortunately, our adversaries understand the Biden administration will chart the same weak and disastrous course as President Obama," Johnson said in a statement. "It's clear the Biden administration is in the business of appeasing adversaries like Russia, state sponsors of terrorism like Iran, and Iran's terrorist proxies like Hamas. Instead of addressing the threats these actors pose, the administration will coddle the Iranian regime and ignore its malign activity throughout the region."

Any potential agreement with Iran, Johnson said, "involves risks that affect our entire nation. It is critical to the security of America and to world peace that any deal Biden negotiates with Iran be deemed a treaty requiring approval by the U.S. Senate."

The legislation is cosponsored by many leading GOP foreign policy voices in the Senate, including Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member James Risch (Idaho), Ted Cruz (Texas), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Tom Cotton (Ark.), Ben Sasse (Neb.), Mike Lee (Utah), Tim Scott (S.C.), Joni Ernst (Iowa), and John Barrasso (Wyo.).

In addition to requiring Senate approval for a nuclear deal, the GOP bill would prohibit the Biden administration from waiving, suspending, reducing, or providing Iran with relief from economic sanctions.