Republicans are convinced that their stance will be a political winner in 2016, both in the race for the White House and down the ticket.
Things didn’t go as planned for Republicans attempting to block the nuclear agreement with Iran, but the deal’s opponents aren’t going away quietly. The House shot down a resolution approving of the agreement Friday, and even though the congressional review period technically ends next week, the debate is likely to continue.
The House voted, 269-162, against a resolution of approval, showing that though President Obama had enough Democratic support to see the agreement survive Congress, there is still a strong majority against it. No Republicans voted for the agreement and 25 Democrats voted against it.
The vote came one day after the Senate failed to clear a procedural hurdle on its disapproval resolution, with 42 Democrats banding together to filibuster the disapproval despite 58 senators, including four Democrats, opposing the agreement. That vote sealed the fate of the agreement in Congress, as opponents were shy of the necessary support to pass any measures to halt it.
In the House, Friday’s vote represented a departure from the original strategy, which had been to pass a resolution of disapproval similar to the Senate’s. Instead, they held three votes: The first, which passed along party lines, was a resolution stating that Obama had not acted within the law when he failed to send the entirety of the agreement to Congress – an argument based on separate “side deals” between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency. The second was the vote on the resolution of approval, which failed. The third was a vote blocking Obama from lifting any Iranian sanctions, which passed with only two Democrats in support.
The switch from disapproval to approval came for two reasons: First, since Republicans felt Obama had violated the law that set up the congressional review, they did not want to vote for disapproval under that law. Second, they viewed forcing Democrats to affirmatively vote in support of the agreement, which 162 of them did, as tougher politically than simply voting against a resolution of disapproval.
“This is about holding every member accountable for their vote,” House Speaker John Boehner said at a press conference Thursday. “You’ve heard me stand at this podium for over a year trying to do everything I could to stop a bad deal with Iran. And frankly, I can tell you that the deal that we have is worse than anything I could have ever imagined over the last year, and so holding members accountable is an important part of our job. And they’re going to have to vote.”
Democrats, however, didn’t view the vote any differently than had it been to block disapproval of the agreement. Rep. Joe Crowley, a member of Democratic leadership, told RCP it was “semantics” and “irrelevant” and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, who was part of the team whipping party support, said they considered it the same vote. She called the tally an “excellent vote,” pointing out that the 162 in favor of the deal went well beyond the original goal of 146 that would have been enough to sustain a veto.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a press conference before the vote that she is proud of both the agreement and her colleagues who supported it.
“I’ve always had confidence that we would sustain the president’s veto if that would be the vote, because it sprang from the fact that in my judgment, which is [based on] decades of service on the Intelligence Committee, a commitment to stopping proliferation as a priority of my service in Congress, that I saw the quality of the agreement,” Pelosi said. “I think it’s masterful. Our colleagues, to one degree or another, agreed with that.”
The vote was just the beginning, however, as Boehner and other Republicans hinted that they could attempt legal action against the president for violating the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which stipulated a 60-day congressional review period started once Congress had received all parts of the deal.
Republicans in the Senate are equally eager to continue the fight despite lacking the votes to block the pact. GOP Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Mike Lee of Utah introduced a resolution Friday suggesting the congressional review period hasn’t started yet because of the side deals, according to The Hill. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in an interview with CNN, said it would be “great” if the House took Obama to court on the issue, but that he didn’t expect the strategy to go anywhere.
McConnell plans to bring the resolution of disapproval up for a vote again next week, forcing Democrats to once again filibuster to protect their interests. Republicans have argued it’s hypocritical for Democrats to have supported congressional review only to block a final vote on the deal. Democrats argue that this is no different than any other important piece of legislation requiring 60 votes to pass.
Regardless of whether these strategies to dismantle the agreement prove successful, Republicans are convinced that their stance will be a political winner in 2016, both in the race for the White House and down the ticket. That comes, of course, with the caveat that it’s 14 months before Election Day and plenty could shift in that time. McConnell, however, predicted it would be a “defining issue” next year.
One national Republican strategist told RCP that because sanctions relief could send as much as $150 billion to Iran, members who voted to support the agreement would see some backlash from constituents.
“I think that’s going to be something that won’t play well in their district back home,” the strategist said. “You see poll after poll that the American public doesn’t think this is a good deal, and I think the folks that voted to give them the $150 billion, when they go home, they’re going to realize how unpopular this vote was.”
Meredith Kelly, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, disagreed with that assessment. In a statement to RCP, she accused Republicans of trying to “play politics” with the vote.
“House Democrats spent many weeks during August recess reading the details of the Iran deal, analyzing it with local and national experts, and engaging in robust debate with their constituents,” Kelly said. “Regardless of how they voted, these Members know better than anyone else what is best for their district, and any attacks on this issue will fall flat next year.”