Senate divided on Corker-Cotton Iran sanctions legislation

WASHINGTON – After President Donald Trump declined to certify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal last week, Senators continue to express divergent perspectives on the best path forward. Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Tom Cotton (R-AK) have revealed their intention to propose legislation that would amend the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA) by reimposing nuclear sanctions if Iran came within a year of obtaining nuclear weapons, and thus eliminating the sunset provisions currently in place.

Senator James Risch (R-ID), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, expressed concern with any efforts to preserve the JCPOA, which he views as “fundamentally flawed.” The Idaho lawmaker told Jewish Insider, “I have got reservations with what was a really, really bad deal to start with. Can it be made better? I don’t know. I’m reserving judgment on it. I want to see what kind of bipartisan support there is going to be for an effort.”

Moderate GOP Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) was optimistic about the Corker Cotton bill. “I talked to both of them about it. I like the direction that they are going in, but I haven’t seen the specifics yet.” While Collins has been a thorn in the President’s side by voting against the Trump-backed health care legislation, she appeared to back his stance on Iran. “I think it’s important to note that the President did not impose sanctions, which he could have done, nor did he withdraw from the agreement. He identified some flaws.”

With the legislation proceeding through regular order, Corker and Cotton will require the backing of 60 Senators to overcome a likely Democratic filibuster. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) opposed the last Iran sanctions bill earlier this summer, so Republicans would likely need at least nine Democratic votes to bring the bill to the President’s desk for his signature.

When asked if he backs the legislation, Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) replied, “Yes. Why not? If you are a strong supporter of Israel, if you think Iran is a rogue nation, I think both are good reasons to do it.”

On the Democratic side of the aisle, there was notably less enthusiasm for the legislation. While declining to address the Corker Cotton bill directly, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told Jewish Insider, “The greatest danger Iran poses in the immediate future is (a.) ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missiles) and (b.) support of Hezbollah and its missiles in Lebanon. We should be tough on that.” Congress has already passed sanctions this year targeting Iran for its support of terrorism and ballistic missile program adding to the uncertainty that Schumer would support new nuclear-related sanctions against Iran now. The New York lawmaker was one of four Senators to buck the party line and oppose the Iran Deal in 2015.

The Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ben Cardin (D-MD) explained that he only received information about the Corker Cotton bill yesterday and said that at this point he is unable to offer a view on the bill. “I am not going to support anything that violates the JCPOA, and we have to work with our European partners,” he added.

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