This afternoon the Corker-Menendez bill requiring that any deal the Obama Administration makes with Iran has to be approved by congress was approved unanimously by the Senate Foreign Relations committee. Technically Congress wont be voting on the deal, they will be voting on whether or not to remove the sanctions. However if the sanctions are not removed there will be no deal from Iran’s point of view.

But that’s not the big story. After Sen. Corker announced a compromise this morning everyone knew the bill would pass with bi-partisan support. Although no one could have foreseen unanimity. I suppose when they wrote the bill the used tiny words so Barbara Boxer could understand it.

The big news is that Obama folded, via his Press Secretary he said unless there were radical changes from what he saw earlier in the day he would sign the bill. Just before the committee meeting started he withdrew its veto threat. Josh Earnest announced the removal during the daily White House briefing.

The White House move had nothing to do with the revised bill and everything to do with the expected vote count. After Corker announced the compromise, a Senate Democratic staffer told the New York Times that a veto-proof majority was now assured.  A veto-proof majority was already assured in the house.  Seeing that he would lose, lose big and lose on a bi-partisan basis the President started hearing his inner Kenny Rodgers “You Gotta Know When To Fold ‘Em”

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The White House spin is that the Corker-Cardin compromise substantively altered the legislation, but like so many other things coming out of the White House that is a lie. One change reduced the time Congress gets to review a deal from 60 days to 52 days. Another change removed language linking sanctions to Iranian terrorism. Senator Barrasso offered an amendment to put the restriction back in, which failed 13-6 and had Corker quipping that if Iranian terrorism kills Americans they’re going to get missiles not sanctions. And finally instead of voting on the deal congress is voting on whether or not to lift the sanctions. But the result of a no vote would be the same.  Even with the changes Secretary of State Kerry was at the Capitol lobbying against the revised bill until late morning, just before the President was about to capitulate..

The substantive problem for the White House spin is that this bill locks in what Corker-Menendez was always supposed to lock in:

  • It gives Congress the ability to intervene after an Iran deal is signed by the parties but before it is implemented by Washington. The legislation prohibits the President from implementing the provisions of a deal immediately, and instead provides lawmakers with 30 days to review its details.
  •  If Congress acts to block the deal, the President will presumably veto that action, at which point lawmakers will have the remainder of the 52 days to try to override the veto.

During the committee meeting Corker explained, “I think the reason the administration in the last 2 hours has chosen the path that they’re now taking, is the number of Senators that they realized were going to support this legislation.” He had already brushed aside the idea that there were any substantive changes: “This legislation is exactly the congressional review we’ve been working on since day 1.”

The political problem for the White House is they lost BIG. And congress finally worked on a bipartisan basis. For months the President was saying that anyone who wanted congressional oversight was choosing war…now he supports oversight.  Even for master spin masters like those on the Obama team can’t spin a loss like this especially…all people have to do is look at the committee vote and what happens in the entire senate. It might be the first truly bi-partisan effort from congress and that vote was a major loss for Obama.