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Sasse: Kerry’s Attempt to Persuade Senate against Iran Bill Backfired

The secretary of state accidentally pushed support for the Corker bill to a veto-proof majority.

Brendan Bordelon

The Obama administration recently revived its threat to veto Tennessee senator Bob Corker’s legislation on the president’s pending deal with Iran. But if the White House’s track record of lobbying senators on the issue is any indication, the veto threat may backfire. During an interview at the National Review Institute’s Ideas Summit on Thursday night, Nebraska senator Ben Sasse said Secretary of State John Kerry’s effort to whip votes in the Senate against legislation mandating congressional oversight of an Iran nuclear deal inadvertently blew up in the administration’s face.

“We were with John Kerry in a classified setting on the Hill as he was lobbying us against the Corker legislation,” Sasse said. “And at that point, the president and the White House thought there were about 65 votes for it.” “John Kerry came to argue against it, and more people got on board with the legislation,” he continued, drawing laughs from the crowd. “And by the end of the morning, by noon, it was clear there were about 68 people on board.” The legislation, which passed unanimously out of the Foreign Relations Committee on April 15, gives Congress the authority to review — and ultimately disapprove — Obama’s tentative nuclear deal with Iran. The White House threatened to kill the bill even while it was being debated in committee. “The administration put on a full-court press to defeat the Corker bill,” Sasse tells National Review. But after Kerry’s disastrous lobbying effort, he explained, the bill earned a veto-proof majority, prompting President Obama to withdraw his veto threat.

The senator said that the result speaks less to Kerry’s persuasive skills than to the disturbing details of the deal itself. “Members of Congress were actually paying attention to what was happening in the deal,” Sasse said. “The more closely people look at the Iranian deal, the more sure they become that it’s absurd to allow Iran to continue enriching material.” The bill is now on the Senate floor, with some Republican senators seeking to add amendments conditioning the acceptance of the deal on Iran’s release of American hostages and the nation’s rejection of terrorism. That’s prompted new veto threats by the White House, and caused some Democrats to waver in their support. “I can’t believe Democrats really think it’s a good idea to stand by their president,” Sasse told NR. “What I hope will happen is that the Congress will reject the idea that the administration is arguing for. But I don’t know what the Democrats are going to do.” Even if the Corker bill passes, the White House will still hold a stronger hand than Congress. Last month, Virginia senator Tim Kaine — one of the most prominent Democratic supporters of the bill — explained the difficulty in passing a final resolution of disapproval over the president’s veto. “If he could convince one-third plus one in one House of Congress to stick with him on the veto, that amounts to ‘no action,’” Kaine told the Washington Post. “Which is then defined as ‘approval.’ That’s a very deferential standard for the president.”

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