During a busy week on Capitol Hill, key lawmakers both in the House and Senate spoke on the floor in support of the nuclear deal with Iran and in opposition to new sanctions. Despite AIPAC heavily lobbying Congress for new sanctions this week, it appears that the Senate will hold firm and block new sanctions from being considered next week, the last week the Senate is in session this year. Further, a House resolution led by Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), which would have called for new sanctions and set out unrealistic demands for a final nuclear deal, was not introduced. While both measures could be considered next year, Congress rounds out the year on a positive note for Iran diplomacy.
On Thursday, several representatives gave speeches on the House floor in support of the nuclear deal. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) said it was “good news” that the Cantor-backed sanctions resolution did not reach the floor this week, adding that “[i]t is imperative that we take this optimistic development that gives us a chance for a diplomatic resolution of the differences with Iran and prevent them form developing nuclear weapons to come to fruition.” Blumenauer argued that Iranian moderates who voted for a change in direction need to be reinforced over hardliners opposed to reconciliation with the West. “This looks like a unique moment in history,” Blumenauer added, “I’m pleased that the House might not screw it up.”
Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) commended Secretary Kerry and lead nuclear negotiator Wendy Sherman for “tough, persistent diplomacy with Iran.” Though hardliners in Iran could block a final agreement, Rep. Doggett said “we should not give them a pretext for doing so.” Further, Rep. Doggett said that “those here who would interfere or limit these negotiations are really offering the American people only one alternative: it is called war.” Alluding to the cost of the Iraq war, Rep. Doggett said that war did not make us safer and diplomacy offers the best hope to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon.
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) said that through diplomacy the United States can “avoid the prospect of war or a nuclear-armed Iran” and step away from the “collision course” that the U.S. and Iran have been on for years. “Ending the cold war with Iran isn’t going to happen overnight,” Ellison added, “but through robust, sustained diplomacy we may prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon and disastrous war, and spare thousands of our children and theirs.” Ellison warned that sanctions could undermine faith with the international community and “kill any hope for diplomacy.” He warned that new sanctions would undermine negotiations and “put us on a path to war,” and that the American people oppose Congressional action that would block an agreement.
Ellison stated that “passing any punitive measures, including a sense of Congress, tying the President’s hands is a mistake, it will not help, and if Congress wants to help we should set up a people-to-people exchange, a Congress-to-Congress exchange, and move forward.”
Rep. David Price (D-NC), the Democratic co-lead on this summer’s Congressional letter urging renewed diplomacy with Iran – which garnered 131 Congressional signatories – also spoke on the floor. Rep. Price said that a comprehensive agreement could prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, which would “neutralize one of the greatest threats facing the United States, Israel and the international community and could set the stage for a new era of relations between Iran and the West.” While the U.S. enters negotiations with a strong hand, “if Congress passes a new round of sanctions, or is perceived as undermining the negotiations, we’ll be giving up our hand before we have a chance to play it, Iran would then have a channce to walk away from the table,” and our leverage could be weakened.
Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), also addressed his colleagues on the House floor. While announcing that he has previously voted for new sanctions, he said that the prospect of new sanctions raises two questions. First, “do we send a message to the world that Congress is not on the same page as our President and Secretary of State?” Second, “do we send a message to our allies in the P5+1…who we need to guarantee that the tough sanctions we impose are enforceable?” Welch argued that we need to make sure that the actions we take make an Iranian nuclear weapon less likely.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) also spoke on Wednesday on the floor of the Senate, arguing that the nuclear deal is “an encouraging first step.” He also warned that new sanctions would threaten diplomacy, asking his colleagues “if there is any chance at all that new sanctions right now might disrupt that agreement, or jeopardize a future agreement – why on earth would we risk it?”