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May 05, 2015

Iran Deal Failure Theater

We got into the Corker-Cardin/Menendez Iran bill a bit on the podcast last week but since Senate action is coming to a head this week, it's worth a fuller look.

As you may recall, Ace is steadfastly opposed to it in its current form. That makes sense because in its current form the bill is a finely crafted instrument designed to allow a majority of Senators to say they did exactly what their votes (on all sides) wanted while not actually doing a damn thing. Corker's inversion of the 2/3rd majority vote to approve a treaty into a 2/3rd majority vote to kill it is a perfect example. Low information voters will think it's being treated just like a treaty when in fact it will be the literal opposite of that.

So basically, it's the kind of deal Senators are genetically predisposed to love. If only it included some highway spending in every state it would the Platonic Ideal of Senate bills.

Unfortunately for Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio is running for President. He wants the bill to actually accomplish something. Like serve as a substantive check on Obama and Iran (yeah, they are basically the same at this point). And that's....a problem for the "be seen doing something but not really doing anything" crowd.

Remember when the deal was being negotiated and people said things like, "no deal is better than a bad deal" or "the choice isn't between this deal and a better one but this one and no deal"? Those sentiments apply to this bill.

If any of Rubio's amendments are agreed to (like ensuring the final deal conforms to Obama's "fact sheet") then the Democrats will kill it in the Senate or Obama will veto it and his veto will be sustained.

So either the Senate passes the fig leaf of Corker, which all but ensures that whatever Obama agrees to will survive a Senate vote of "disapproval" (only 37 Democrats will have to stick with Obama) or kill the bill and Obama will simply sign whatever he was going to sign anyway and Congress will never vote on it.

In the end, the outcome is basically the same.

The real question is, what's the best way to hang an Iran nuke around the collective necks of the Democrats? I'd say forgo Corker and make Democrats in the Senate vote on every single damn poison pill out there. Make them either kill a strong bill or make them vote for it, force Obama to veto it and then make Democrats choke on the inevitable outcome of this deal.

We'll have a better sense of this later today or tomorrow when McConnell will announce if Rubio's strong arm tactic to force poison pill votes is what the GOP Senate caucus wants or if they will simply pass Corker as is. read this story to get a sense of how Rubio is jamming McConnell on this. Basically McConnell could have kept Rubio's amendments off the floor and saved Republicans from either having to vote for them and killing the deal or vote against them and look soft on Iran. Rubio however used a parliamentary maneuver that forces McConnell to either let Rubio's poison pills come to a vote, thus forcing GOP Senators into the choice they want to avoid or end debate and kill amendments Republicans wanted to at least vote on to look tough but not so tough as to kill the deal.

But wait! This movie review isn't over....


How did we get here? Why isn't Obama forced to submit this as a treaty? Isn't this just more lawlessness from our Tyrant in Chief?

Taking the last question first...actually, no.

The reason this isn't a treaty requiring the Senate "consent" with a two-thirds vote is nothing Obama is promising to do in the agreement requires a change in US law or binds Congress to any actions.

What Obama is promising to do is waive or remove some sanctions using power he already has under existing law. Congress gave him the ability to do the things he's promising Iran he will do with regards to US sanctions. Congress could try and pass news legislation revoking that power but clearly that's a non-starter.

When it comes to UN sanctions, all Obama is doing is saying if Iran does A, B, and C he will instruct the US Ambassador to vote a certain way at the Security Council. No President needs to submit that kind of decision to the Senate for ratification.

Think of the Status of Forces Agreement George W. Bush signed with Iraq. That didn't go to the Senate because everything in it he committed the US to (like troop dispositions and levels) was in his power as President to set unilaterally.

This Iran deal is different from traditional arms control treaties with say, Russia. In those treaties the terms of the agreements placed limits on things like the number of nuclear warheads the US will produce. That's not something a President determines by himself. Congress sets those limits in defense spending and authorization bills. A President can't commit to another nation that he will be able to limit what Congress will do within its own sphere of action. Congress has to agree to be bound by those kind of limitations on its powers through the treaty ratification process.

Essentially Obama holds all the cards here. Congress gave him many of those of cards in the first place and the Constitution gave him the rest. The only consideration left is how the GOP will position itself for the political post-deal fallout. That's the only thing at stake with Corker-Cardin/Menendez.

Everything else is just noise.

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posted by DrewM. at 09:59 AM

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