WASHINGTON -- The Republican-led House cast largely symbolic votes Friday against the Iran nuclear deal and sought to restrict President Barack Obama's authority to lift sanctions against Iran, one day after the Senate ensured that the administration can implement the accord without congressional interference.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., center, with House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., right, and House Assistant Minority Leader Rep. James Clyburn of S.C., left, speaks during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015.
After three hours of heated debate, the House voted 269-162 to reject the deal; 25 Democrats broke with Obama to register their disapproval.
The fate of the agreement on Capitol Hill, however, was sealed Thursday when Senate Democrats voted to uphold the accord with Iran, overcoming heavy GOP opposition to hand Obama a victory on his top foreign policy priority. The Senate action guaranteed that any legislation disapproving of the accord would never reach Obama's desk.
Obama marked the end of House votes with a statement saying it is time to turn the page.
"Now, we must turn to the critical work of implementing and verifying this deal so that Iran cannot pursue a nuclear weapon," the president said in a statement. "In doing so, we'll write the latest chapter of American leadership in the pursuit of a safer, more hopeful world."
During the debate, Democrats argued that the agreement would stabilize the Mideast, stop Iran from rushing to develop a nuclear bomb and offer a chance to end the standoff with Iran diplomatically, while retaining a U.S. threat of military action. They claimed House Republicans used their opposition to the nuclear deal to take a partisan shot at the president.
Republicans countered that the agreement's inspection regime against Iran, a state sponsor of terrorism, is weak and repeatedly recalled how Islamic extremists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. They said the deal will allow Iran to eventually possess a nuclear weapon and that the billions it will receive through sanctions relief will end up in the hands of terrorist groups that Iran supports.
"This deal is far worse than anything I could have imagined," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. "This is all without Iran cheating. That's right, this is such a bad deal the ayatollah won't even have to cheat to be steps away from a nuclear weapon."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said that if the Iranians cheat, inspectors using advanced technology will know it. She noted that Iran is already on the threshold of being a nuclear-armed state and that the agreement delays this from becoming a reality for at least a decade.
"We mustn't judge agreements for what they don't do," Pelosi said. "Today we will not be just making history ... we will be making progress for the peace in the world."
Boehner said the agreement does not have a rigorous enough inspection regime, will allow Iran to keep thousands of centrifuges spinning and will leave the nation with a chance to become a nuclear-armed state in about a decade. He said all options remain on the table for the Republicans to stop the agreement, including a possible lawsuit.
The Obama administration says Iran will give United Nations inspectors more access to its nuclear program. If inspectors identify a suspicious site, an arbitration panel will decide within 24 days whether Iran has to give the agency access.
"Never in our history has something with so many consequences for our national security been rammed through with such little support," Boehner said. "Today is Sept. 11. ... Our fight to stop this bad deal is just beginning. We will not let the American people down."
Arkansas' four representatives, all Republicans, voted for the disapproval resolution. They each spoke against the deal on the House floor this week.
"It is entirely naive for supporters of this agreement to trust an unstable, hostile theocracy to self-certify on nuclear weapons when the federal government doesn't even trust American citizens, farmers and ranchers to self-certify on farm fuel storage," Rep. Rick Crawford of Jonesboro said.
Rep. Bruce Westerman of Hot Springs said there shouldn't have been concessions until Iran stopped sponsoring terrorism. "They must earn our trust," he said.
The State Department lists Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Rep. French Hill of Little Rock said the deal puts too much faith in a country that wants to hurt the United States' allies.
"Anyone that is a friend of Israel cannot, in good faith, support this proposal," he said.
Rep. Steve Womack of Rogers said the deal creates grave danger. "It's unconscionable that we would consider anything that leaves a path for Iran to possess a weapon, as this agreement does," he said.
Debate over Sanctions
In a second vote, the House voted 247-186 in favor of a measure to suspend until Jan. 21, 2017 -- a day after a new president is sworn into office -- Obama's authority to waive, suspend or reduce sanctions on Iran. Arkansas' representatives voted for the measure.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., spoke vehemently against the Iran accord but acknowledged that the vote will not stop the president from implementing the agreement. The House measures could come up in the Senate next week but would face a filibuster by Senate Democrats, and the date set for the close of congressional review of the deal is Thursday.
"I know the president may have already lined up enough support to save his deal. But with this vote, we need to send a message to both Iran and the world," Ryan said.
"The regime may have bamboozled this administration, but the American people know that this is a rotten deal."
White House spokesman Josh Earnest dismissed Boehner's warning that he might sue Obama over the Iran deal, saying, "We obviously feel quite confident in our ability to move forward with the rest of the international community."
As part of the last-ditch effort to snarl the deal, the House on Thursday adopted a resolution on a vote of 245-186 saying that Obama had not complied with the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. Arkansas' representatives voted for the resolution.
Supporters of the resolution claimed the act required the president to supply Congress with all documents relevant to the deal, but that the administration did not give lawmakers texts of two agreements that the United Nations nuclear inspection agency negotiated separately with Iran.
Some Republicans claim the 60-day clock never started and that they can't cast votes on the deal because they are still waiting for all the documents.
Obama's administration has said it doesn't have the bilateral agreements, and the International Atomic Energy Agency has said confidentiality provisions prevent it from releasing them.
Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., was undeterred.
"We have members of Congress stand up and demand that they see the text of bills that rename post offices and yet this is a historic agreement and many of my colleagues are saying they are going to vote for it without even knowing what the details are about important components about how we're going to verify whether the Iranian regime has complied with this agreement," he said.
Among the Democrats, there was some exasperation as they recognized that they would be in for a protracted battle, at least through the 2016 presidential and congressional elections and possibly beyond.
"This highlights one of the great problems we have wrestled with over the last couple of years, which is nothing is ever over," said Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the senior Democrat on the House Select Committee on Intelligence. "We used to have political fights and when they were done, you moved on to the next fight. But unfortunately in today's climate nothing is ever over. It's re-litigated constantly."
Under the nuclear agreement, which was negotiated by the U.S., the United Kingdom, China, France, Germany and Russia, Iran is to gain some relief from sanctions in exchange for greater international oversight and new restrictions on its nuclear program.
Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said that after sanctions are eased, Iran will be able to freely access about half of some $100 billion in foreign reserves.
Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., a fierce critic of the accord, said easing sanctions on Iran would allow it to increase its financing of terrorists.
"Is it all going to go to pave roads? Is it going to go build schools in Tehran? Is it going to fix water systems? I don't think so," Roskam said.
Speaking to reporters this week, Roskam said he was also leaving open the possibility of a lawsuit aimed at forcing the White House to provide the text of separate agreements between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat, scoffed at the prospect of Republican lawsuits. "Maybe they decided to take a breather on suits on the Affordable Care Act to file some new lawsuits against this administration," he said at the Capitol on Thursday. "They are sure keeping the lawyers busy."
In other news, the White House said it's trying to arrange an early November meeting between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It would be the first formal meeting between the two leaders in months.
Obama declined to see Netanyahu in March when the Israeli leader appeared before a joint meeting of Congress and harshly criticized the nuclear deal with Iran, Israel's enemy. Lawmakers had arranged Netanyahu's appearance without White House input.
Vice President Joe Biden earlier this week revealed arrangements for the meeting.
Information for this article was contributed by Deb Riechmann and staff members of The Associated Press; by David M. Herszenhorn of The New York Times; and by Sarah D. Wire of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
A Section on 09/12/2015
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