The Corner

Politics & Policy

Senator Ted Cruz Is Right: the Corker Law Period for Congressional Review of the Iran Act Has Never Begun

In Senator Ted Cruz’s excellent Senate floor speech against President Obama’s catastrophic Iran deal, he urged Republican leadership – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) – to reject the claim that Congress must vote on the deal in the next few days. He is absolutely right. By the unambiguous terms of the Corker law, the period for congressional review of the Iran deal has never begun because Obama has failed to provide the entirety of it.

This maneuver has the normally sensible Jen Rubin ballistic. At her Washington Post blog, Jen inveighs that Cruz is guilty of a “singular act of betrayal of anti-Iran forces” that has “incensed” at least one unidentified official of a pro-Israel group, who insists, “If you loathe the deal, the only course of action is to demand an up or down vote on the resolution of disapproval.”

That is ridiculous. If you loathe the deal, as Cruz plainly does (watch his speech if you have any doubt), the objective should be to derail the deal. By contrast, Jen and her sources, including Josh Block of the Israel Project, maintain that the objective is to move as quickly as possible to a vote on the resolution of disapproval – a vote that anti-Iranian forces will lose thanks to the truly loathsome Corker review process that enables Obama’s deal to win with just 34 votes. Obama already has commitments from 42 Democrats.

I have to assume that these opponents of the deal, whose good faith I do not question, are unfamiliar with the Corker law and thus do not understand what Cruz is trying to do, namely, preserve the anti-nuclear sanctions against Iran that will be repealed if the vote for which they are stamping their feet goes forward.

As I explained in my weekend column, the Corker law (the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015) required President Obama to submit the entirety of the Iran deal, including all side deals within five days of closing the deal – meaning, by July 19. It is indisputable that Obama has failed to comply with this requirement.

The administration snuck key inspection and verification provisions into side deals between Iran and the IAEA. It has also emerged that Obama has secret side deals with several governments (China, Germany, France and Britain), promising that their companies will not be penalized if Iran is caught cheating – thus undermining the already illusory “snapback” sanctions. These side deals have not been provided to Congress. It is unmistakably clear that the Corker law mandates that they be disclosed (see subsection (h)(1)’s definition of the “agreement” the administration was required to turn over to Congress).

Now, because the plain language of Corker obliged Obama to disclose every shred of the deal by July 19, that should be the end of the matter: Obama has defaulted on the Corker conditions, and therefore he should lose the benefit of Corker’s rigged review process. That, however, is my argument; it is not the one Cruz is making.

Instead, the senator points out that, under Corker sections (b)(1)-(2), the 60-day “period for review by Congress” does not commence until “transmittal by the President of an agreement” as defined in the statute – which, again, means every bit of the agreement. Because Obama has withheld parts of the deal, the review period has not commenced.

Why is this important? Because, under Corker section (b)(3),

prior to and during the period for transmission of an agreement … and during the period for congressional review … the President may not waive, suspend, reduce, provide relief from, or otherwise limit the application of statutory sanctions with respect to Iran[.]

Further, under other provisions of the Corker law, the prohibition against Obama’s taking actions to lift sanctions is extended to ten days after the date that he vetoes a “resolution of disapproval” (assuming one is passed by both houses of Congress).

Get it? From the time Obama reached the deal with Iran, through the time for congressional review, and for up to ten more days after Obama’s veto of a disapproval resolution, the sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program must remain in place.

Senator Cruz’s point is that the agreement was reached on July 14, so Obama is now trapped in the phase where he is not permitted to lift the sanctions; but because Obama has not disclosed the agreement, the congressional review period has not started, and would not start until the entire agreement is forthcoming. Once it does start, the review period plus the time frame for voting on a disapproval resolution and attempting to override Obama’s veto of it will go on for the better part of three months.

During that whole time, the sanctions must remain in place. Consequently, if GOP leadership takes the position – clearly spelled out in Corker – that the review period will not be deemed to commence until Congress has received the entire deal, the sanctions could be preserved for several more months.

As politically advantageous as Republicans may perceive it to be to force Democrats to vote for the Iran deal, Obama is assured of winning that vote when it happens. That means the sanctions will be lifted.

The idea is to preserve the sanctions for as long as possible. Isn’t that what GOP leaders are telling us they want the next president to do – reinstate and enforce the sanctions? If that’s what we want, why is anyone in a hurry to have Obama lift them?

Moreover, to repeat what I argued over the weekend, Republicans rationalized enacting Corker’s counter-constitutional review process by claiming it was the only way to assure that Congress and the American people would get to see the entire agreement Obama has struck with Iran. This was a preposterous rationale because Congress has significant constitutional powers that could have been used to pressure Obama for disclosure – Republicans simply refuse to use those powers. But for now, that is neither here nor there since it is beyond cavil that the full agreement has not been disclosed.

It is not enough to say that Republicans have thus made a political commitment to their supporters, beyond the legal requirements spelled out in Corker, to demand full disclosure. How is it conceivably responsible for Congress to rush to a vote on an agreement as to which key provisions are being withheld from lawmakers? What rational person agrees to vote on something he or she has not been able to read?

If some apparently misinformed anti-Iran activists get their way and move to a premature vote just so they can achieve an ostensibly impressive but actually insufficient demonstration of dissent against Obama’s deal, the sanctions against Iran will be gone in a matter of days. If Senator Cruz gets his way, the sanctions could be preserved for many months – perhaps enough time to execute other strategies to derail Obama’s Iran deal. If not, then at least it would be additional months during which billions of dollars would be kept from the coffers of the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism.

Ted Cruz is not saying Congress should never have a vote on a resolution of disapproval. He is saying Congress should follow the law Republicans wrote, demand full disclosure of the agreement, hold the vote only after Obama has complied with his legal obligations, and keep the anti-Iran sanctions in place as long as possible.

What is the objection to that?

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