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Obama, Senate Compromise Gives Congress A Say On Iran Nuclear Deal


Congress gets a say in the Iran nuclear talks after all. A Senate committee approved a bill that would stop President Obama from fully enacting a deal over Iran's nuclear program until Congress considers it. It's a bipartisan measure approved in committee 19 to nothing. The president has resisted interference by Congress, which he said would endanger presidential power entirely aside from endangering his deal. But the White House now says the president can sign a bill the administration considers less bad after a compromise. Here's NPR's David Welna.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: This is an example of when lawmakers realize they want something badly enough, they'll do what they have to do to make it happen. On the day after announcing his bid for the presidency, Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio dropped his plans to introduce an amendment, making any nuclear agreement contingent on Iran recognizing Israel's right to exist. Rubio said he recognized such a measure could complicate passing a congressional review of a nuclear deal.

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Ultimately, the alternative is not to do anything. And that would play right into the hands of what the administration's asking for Congress to do, which is to have no role whatsoever.

WELNA: The White House had repeatedly warned President Obama would veto the bill that Rubio had hoped to amend. It made clear certain elements in the bill were unacceptable, including a provision requiring a periodic presidential certification that Iran had not been involved in terrorist attacks against Americans. White House officials also objected to another provision, calling for a 60-day period for Congress to debate and vote on a final nuclear agreement, during which time no sanctions could be lifted. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said before yesterday's vote that he was aware efforts were being made to drop these provisions.


JOSH EARNEST: And if presented with a compromise along the lines that I just laid out here, that would be the kind of compromise the president would be willing to sign.

WELNA: And a compromise is just what the president got. The terrorism certification was dropped from the Senate bill, and the 60-day review period was reduced to 30 days. Connecticut Democratic Senator Chris Murphy praised his fellow Foreign Relations Committee members yesterday for retooling their oversight bill so that it won't threaten ongoing negotiations.


SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY: I think we've heard very clearly that the changes that have been made over the past 24 to 48 hours essentially make this legislation benign as it relates to the negotiations.

WELNA: In essence, the bill would make the lifting of any congressional sanctions on Iran contingent on lawmakers approving a nuclear deal. And if they did not, that would surely be a deal breaker for Iran. Still, some Republicans were clearly unhappy with the compromise bill. Wisconsin's Ron Johnson said Congress will be voting on little more than keeping the sanctions it's passed against Iran in place.


SENATOR RON JOHNSON: It is an incredibly limited role. It is a role with very little teeth. It is a far cry from advice and consent of 67 senators voting in the affirmative that this is a good deal for America.

WELNA: Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the committee, sympathized with Johnson's desire to convert a nuclear deal with Iran into a formal treaty.


SENATOR BOB CORKER: You know, if I could wave a wand or if pigs began to fly, we could turn this into the type of agreement that has been discussed.

WELNA: Pigs did not fly. As ranking Democrat Ben Cardin noted, Congress has had to come to terms with a longstanding reality.


SENATOR BEN CARDIN: I don't think we'll convince any administration, Democrat or Republican, that Congress should have any role in anything that they do. We understand that.


CARDIN: That's a given.

WELNA: And yet, with the accommodations made yesterday, Congress will likely play a role in any deal reached with Iran. David Welna, NPR News, Washington.

INSKEEP: Congress? Compromise? Wow. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.