September 9, 2015
Deirdre Walsh, Manu Raju and Ted Barrett
Washington (CNN) - House Republican leaders are changing tactics on the Iran nuclear deal after blowback from conservatives.
GOP leaders are grappling with opposition from conservatives who earlier Wednesday delayed the start of debate on a resolution that would block the nuclear accord. Conservatives are calling on the White House to hand over more details about the nuclear agreement.
To get around the sudden obstacle, House leaders devised a plan intended to address conservative concerns by paving the way for a legal challenge over the implementation of the deal. The House will vote on a measure that says President Barack Obama violated the law by not turning over all the details of the historic agreement his administration reached with Iran.
The House would also vote on a resolution of approval on the nuclear deal -- to put the House on record as having a majority that opposes it -- and another measure that would prevent Obama from unilaterally lifting any sanctions on Iran passed by Congress.
But it's the legal process that GOP leaders hope will bring conservatives on board and keep the House on track to finish voting on Iran by Friday.
Leadership believes it now has enough buy-in from rank-and-file members to start debate on Thursday and aim to finish voting by Friday.
A GOP aide said that this approach "lays the groundwork for a potential legal challenge and takes away legitimacy of President being able to say he used legal process to secure this deal."
"I think that a lot of the dialogue we had today was talking up setting up a lawsuit," Arizona Republican Rep. Matt Salmon told reporters.
Salmon told reporters that the move to set out this new process comes as House Republicans recognize that Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid likely has enough votes to prevent any debate on the GOP resolution to try to block the deal.
After presenting this new plan, House Speaker John Boehner received a couple of standing ovations from members, according to a Republican who attended the meeting.
"I don't know anybody that said I won't vote for this, " Salmon said.
House leaders think a vote of approval will get around the obstacle imposed by conservatives who earlier Wednesday delayed the start of debate by calling for the administration to hand over more information on the deal before holding a vote.
They claimed that because the administration hadn't turned over the arrangements for inspections of nuclear sites worked out between Iran and the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), it hadn't fulfilled the requirements of the Iran Review Act and the House shouldn't move ahead with a vote.
Under that act, Congress has 60 days from the day it received the completed agreement to hold a vote, which could derail the pact. If Congress misses that deadline, the nuclear agreement automatically begins to be implemented.
That date has been seen as Sept. 17, but conservatives are arguing that that deadline doesn't apply because the administration didn't pass along all the details of the so-called side deals with the IAEA. The Iran Review Act also allows Obama to waive sanctions after that date, so long as Congress doesn't vote to disapprove the deal, but since the House is now looking at operating outside that framework, GOP leaders want to make clear that they don't think Obama would have the right to lift them.
But if Congress doesn't meet the Sept. 17 deadline for a vote, whatever the Republican arguments, it could throw into question the ability of Congress to weigh in on the deal at all.
Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker argued Wednesday that delaying the vote as some House Republicans want is currently not the best strategy.
"As I understand the law ... we have to act before Sept, 17, which is next week, or the deal does forward," McConnell said.
They said that if Congress doesn't act by Sept. 17, the sanctions will be lifted and the deal will be approved.
McConnell set things into motion Thursday on a Senate vote by filing a motion to end debate. The vote could take place Thursday afternoon, but there's a possibility for it to slide to Friday.
Republicans are better off acting within the allotted time frame to demonstrate that a bipartisan majority of the Congress oppose the deal, they argued. Corker said he has had "conversations" with some of the House Republicans pushing this strategy.
"There is a lot of dissension on how to proceed with the Iran resolution -- a lot," Kentucky GOP Rep. Tom Massie said after a closed door meeting with all House Republican members earlier Wednesday.
After leadership unveiled its new three-vote plan, Massie told CNN that "it's important to preserve the right to sue" but that he was still mulling over whether he would fully back all three components of the new plan.
With a Jewish holiday falling early next week, there is limited time for the vote.
On Tuesday, Illinois Republican Rep. Peter Roskam introduced a resolution that effectively postponed any vote until the administration turns over information on Iran's agreement with the IAEA.
"My expectation is that it will put the attention on the administration to comply with the law," Roskam told CNN. The Illinois lawmaker, who was once part of House Speaker John Boehner's leadership team, added, "it's impossible to ask the House to vote on something where there are secret arrangements."
Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz joined the call for the delay, arguing that because Congress wasn't given all the information, the mid-September deadline for a vote laid out in the Iran Review Act didn't apply.
"The administration has not submitted the deal," Cruz said, adding, "Republicans in this body should not be facilitating this president yet again disregarding the law and doing so in contravention of the national security interests of this country."
Boehner acknowledged that the morning GOP meeting included a "healthy conversation" over the issue and mentioned Roskam's proposal.
Boehner told reporters Iran was the issue he heard the most about during his travels over the summer recess.
"At this point I think the president has lost this debate with the American people," Boehner said, adding, "we're going to do all we can to continue to try and stop this bad deal."
However, even if the House vote against the deal goes through, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi continues to say there is enough support among House Democrats to sustain the President's promised veto of the bill, should it get to that.
In the Senate, Democratic aides said Wednesday that they were increasingly confident that the 42 Democratic supporters of the deal would also vote to block it from coming up for a final vote. Doing so would frustrate Republicans but be a boost to the White House, which would prefer not to have to veto the disapproval resolution and face an override vote from Republicans in Congress, even though it is assured to fail.
"We have high hopes that because 42 senators have made it clear that they support the agreement, we hope that the Senate will move rapidly to do the business of our country -- not of a party, but the business of our nation -- and we hope that will happen very soon," Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters after meeting privately with a group of about 20 Senate Democrats.
During the meeting, he urged the senators to block the vote from taking place, according to two senators who attended the meeting.
Senate Democratic leaders caution they won't know for sure where the votes are until they are cast on a procedural motion, probably later this week, although it is not scheduled yet. Democrats will huddle in a caucus meeting Wednesday, at which point they might have a better idea of where the votes stand, aides said.
With the Senate GOP leaders already saying they would go ahead and move forward on their own resolution of disapproval, the House votes are more intended to send a message than to effectively blocking the Iran deal.
"This is a process to try to communicate some of our reservations to the American people," Utah Republican Rep Chris Stewart told reporters.