Conservative House Republicans forced an abrupt about-face from party leaders Wednesday as a rule to debate a resolution disapproving the Iran nuclear deal was scrapped in favor of an approach involving votes on three related measures.
The first measure specifies that the Obama administration had not properly submitted the accord to Congress. The second is a bound-to-fail vote to approve the deal, and a third would prevent Obama from lifting congressionally mandated sanctions on Iran. Debate and votes were to begin Thursday.
"We need to pull every tool out of the toolbox to stop this bad deal," said Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas.
The rebels were egged on by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who has repeatedly allied himself with House conservatives to thwart the plans of GOP leaders. He and others argued that the disapproval vote should be delayed, contending the 60-day deadline clock on the congressional review period can't really start until lawmakers get information on separate agreements negotiated with Iran by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
"I don't believe the [60-day] clock has started," said Rep. Pete Roskam, R-Ill. "Either stop the clock or disclose the documents."
Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas, one of the conservative rebels, told reporters that he believed there were two so-called "side agreements" that had not been disclosed to Congress.
"I believe those documents exist," Pompeo said.
However, that claim is contrary to how the House GOP leadership, including House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif, acted over the summer. After the final agreement was sealed in July, GOP leaders started a 60-day clock, which mandated that Congress consider and vote on the deal by September 17 under legislation passed earlier this year.
Republican leaders did not sound receptive to conservative attempts to change the terms of the debate.
"Right now we've got strong bipartisan opposition to this deal. It's my opinion that we're far better off focusing on the substance" rather than the timing of a vote, said Sen. Bob Corker, R- Tenn., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
The White House and Democratic lawmakers were dismissive of the conservative moves. "Sounds like a plan hatched up at Tortilla Coast on a Tuesday night," said White House spokesman Eric Schultz, naming a restaurant near the Capitol where congressional conservatives meet.
In response to Schultz, Pompeo retorted, "I haven't been to Tortilla Coast in months."
The maneuvering appeared to be moving forward without the blessing of the powerful pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, which has led opposition to the accord. An official with the group said its preference was for a straight vote on the disapproval resolution — something Senate Democrats are trying to block with a filibuster.
The fate of that effort remained uncertain. In the Senate debate did begin on the resolution Wednesday, with some describing the vote, which could occur yet this week, as among the most consequential in their lifetimes. Underscoring the occasion, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., urged all senators to be present, though most Democrats and some Republicans ignored the request.
The international accord aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions will likely move ahead barring truly dramatic turnabouts. Even if Congress succeeds in passing legislation aimed at undermining it by next week's deadline, President Obama would veto such a measure and minority Democrats command enough votes to sustain the veto.
Fox News' Chad Pergram and the Associated Press contributed to this report.