WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats turned back two final GOP attempts Thursday to undermine the Iran nuclear agreement, and Republicans indicated they would concede defeat and move on to other topics.
Democrats voted 53-44 to block a measure preventing the Obama administration from lifting sanctions against Iran unless the country recognizes Israel as a state and releases American hostages. A second vote, on a disapproval resolution against the deal, also fell short, on a 56-42 vote. In both cases, 60 votes were needed to advance to final passage.
Two previous votes in recent days against the Iran deal produced similar outcomes. Democrats were even more united Thursday, as several who oppose the Iran deal nonetheless voted with their party on one of the measures, rejecting attempts by the GOP majority to use the issue to political advantage.
"This cynical tactic is a waste of the Senate's time," Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., complained on the Senate floor, contending that lawmakers should instead be working on legislation to fund the government and prevent a partial shutdown ahead of a Sept. 30 deadline.
But Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the deal aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear program actually strengthens it and that Congress should say "no." At the same time, he told lawmakers the Senate would now move on from the Iran issue and prepare for a vote next week on legislation banning most late-term abortions, a measure scheduled just before a historic visit from Pope Francis.
"The deal can, and likely will, be revisited by the next commander in chief," McConnell said of the Iran agreement. "But its negative consequences promise to live on regardless -- and far beyond one president's last few months in office."
The accord negotiated by the U.S., Iran and five world powers will provide Iran hundreds of billions of dollars in relief from international sanctions in exchange for a decade of constraints on the country's nuclear program. Opponents fear it will empower Iran and threaten Israel, but they were not able to overcome concerted lobbying by the White House and a high vote hurdle in Congress to send a disapproval resolution to Obama's desk.
Still, Thursday's votes might not be Congress' final word. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has held out the possibility of taking legal action to block the deal, and lawmakers are also considering legislation to reinstate sanctions or take other steps against Iran.