This bill would increase congressional oversight of the P5+1 negotiations with Iran, giving Congress authority to approve or reject any agreement and creating a mechanism for it to oversee the verification of such a deal. The bill would also outline a phased process for congressional review and condition any sanctions relief on congressional approval.
The congressional approval process was as follows: Within 5 days of a final agreement, the administration would have to deliver to Congress: the text of the deal; a report from the State Dept. assessing U.S. and IAEA capacity to verify it, as well as any verification safeguards built into it; and a certification that the deal upholds existing U.S. policies on nonproliferation, and will continue to deter Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Upon completion of these steps, Congress would have a 30-day period to review the deal (with the period extended to 60 days if the administration delivered the required materials between 7/10 and 9/7/2015) during which, the administration could not provide Iran any relief from existing sanctions, except for those already waived in the course of the negotiations. Sanctions would be maintained for an additional 12 days, in the event of the passage of a disapproval resolution, and another 10 following a presidential veto of such a resolution. Sanctions relief would be permitted if Congress passed a joint resolution of approval during the review period or if it took no action.
If Congress approved the deal or failed to overturn a presidential veto on a disapproval resolution, the president would be required to report to Congress every 90 days on his ability to verify Iran’s compliance with the agreement or any action taken by Iran to advance its nuclear weapons program. The president would also have to verify that sanctions relief was vital to U.S. interests and proportionate to the corresponding steps taken by Iran. Additionally, the president would be required to deliver to Congress any information about incidents of Iranian noncompliance within 10 days, then report on whether each incident was a ‘material breach’ or a ‘compliance incident’ and how Iran could rectify the matter. (A material breach would be defined as any breach of the deal benefiting Iran’s nuclear program, decreasing Iran’s ‘breakout’ time, or undermining the purposes of the agreement.) If the president failed to do so, Congress would be permitted to consider legislation reinstating sanctions within 60 days by way of an expedited process.
If a deal was reached, the administration would be required to deliver a report to Congress on Iran’s nuclear program and its compliance with the deal every 180 days. The administration would also be required to keep Congress informed about any negotiations or initiative with Iran regarding its nuclear program, including amendments to the original deal.
On 3/3, the bill was referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee where it needed to pass before it could be brought before the full Senate. That day, Israeli PM Netanyahu addressed a special meeting of Congress, and over 10,000 attendees of AIPAC’s annual conference were on Capitol Hill calling for increased oversight of the P5+1 negotiations with Iran. In order to circumvent the often long committee process, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) employed his authority as Senate majority leader to introduce a largely identical bill, which he placed on the full chamber’s schedule immediately. See S. 625 of 3/3/15 for more.
After McConnell’s efforts to fast-track the measure were stymied by Senate Democrats, focus returned to the original version of the bill as well as for review by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It was subject to several weeks of partisan debate, but Corker, the committee’s chair and bill’s sponsor, was keen on taking action. Ultimately, he and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the committee’s ranking Democrat, set a vote for 4/14.
Ahead of the 4/14 committee vote, senators offe