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January 29, 2015 3:46 pm

Decisive Senate Banking Committee Vote on Iran Sanctions Bill Undermines Obama Veto Threat

avatar by Ben Cohen

The Senate Banking Committee voted 18-4 to advance Iran sanctions legislation proposed by Senators Robert Menendez (l) and Mark Kirk. Photo: Twitter

President Barack Obama’s threat to use his veto against new Iran sanctions legislation could potentially backfire, following today’s decisive vote by the Senate Banking Committee to advance a bill proposed by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill) that would impose fresh penalties on the Tehran regime should there be no final agreement on its nuclear program in the coming months.

The committee voted 18-4 to send the “Nuclear Free Iran Act of 2015” to the Senate floor, with all four opposing votes being cast by Democrats. However, six Democrats joined with twelve Republicans in approving the measure.

In the aftermath of the vote, Menendez said that he and other Democrats were opposed to the bill being immediately brought before the Senate, preferring to wait for a March 24 deadline for a political framework agreement with the Iranians. There is also a further deadline of June for a technical agreement.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn) concurred with Menendez, saying “I look at this effort today overall as putting in place a placeholder on the Senate floor. My guess is if the negotiations break down, many people may want to do something even stronger than what this bill says today.”

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Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, another Democrat who backs the proposed legislation, explained that since “a strong, negotiated agreement is the best solution, a solution that I hope we achieve, I, along with a group of my colleagues – many of whom who are sponsors of the original Menendez-Kirk legislation – have said we will not vote for the bill on the floor of the Senate until then. If by March 24th the Iranians haven’t come to an agreement, I will vote for the bill on the floor of the Senate at that time.”

The more important question, however, is whether the bill has mustered enough support to override any veto on President Obama’s part. According to Defense News, “the 18-4 committee vote suggests there may be the 67 required votes in the chamber to overturn a veto.”

In a briefing note concerning the Banking Committee vote, Washington, DC advocacy organization The Israel Project said it had already identified 68 potential votes against a veto (a minimum of 67 votes is required to override the president.) These would be composed of all of the 52 Republicans in the Senate, with the exceptions of Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, along with a significant contingent of Democrats, including the three senators who sponsored the last iteration of the Kirk-Menendez Bill.

Responding to the Banking Committee vote, White House spokesman Josh Earnest declared himself “pleased that Democrats have put forward a statement indicating that they would hold off their support for legislation that would impose additional sanctions on Iran until the end of March.”

Earnest added that “The President has made the case…that additional sanctions put in place against Iran right now, in the midst of ongoing negotiations, could threaten the overall deal.”

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