A Senate Iran sanctions bill that was originally touted as bipartisan is increasingly morphing into primarily a Republican bill, as just 2 of the bill’s 27 most recent co-sponsors have been Democrats.
Last month, Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-iL) introduced the “Nuclear Weapon Free Act,” a bill that seeks to impose new sanctions on Iran unless President Obama can certify certain conditions for waivers over the next year. The two senators and their allies promoted the bill as a bipartisan one, as 13 of the 26 senators that originally co-sponsored it are Democrats. “This is a responsible, bipartisan bill to protect the American people from Iranian deception and I urge the Majority Leader to give the American people an up or down vote,” Kirk said at the time.
The bill’s promoters have predicted even more support. “We expect several Democrats to kind of cross the picket line and come on board this week,” an anonymous Senate aide told Reuters on Monday.
But while the bill now has 53 co-sponsors, opposition and support for the bill has increasingly become more partisan and ideologically divided. Democrats haven’t flocked en masse to officially sign on, as just 2 of the 27 newest co-sponsors to the Senate Iran sanctions bill are Democrats, and the ones that have co-sponsored the measure don’t seem too eager to promote their support.
For months, and particularly since the first-step deal reached in Geneva last month, the White House has been asking Congress hold off on any new sanctions bill, arguing that it could jeopardize a final nuclear deal with Iran. And the chairs of 10 Senate committees, all Democrats, criticized the Kirk-Menendez bill and urged Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) against bringing it to the floor for a vote. “We believe that new sanctions would play into the hands of those in Iran who are most eager to see the negotiations fail,” they wrote in a letter to Reid, adding that the U.S. Intelligence Community recently assessed that “new sanctions would undermine the prospects for a successful comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran.”
In another sign of tempered Democratic support for more sanctions now, the National Jewish Democratic Council released a statement on Thursday that neither outright supports nor opposes the Kirk-Menendez bill, saying it’s a “welcome option” should it be “necessary,” but adding: “We encourage Congress to support the President’s foreign policy initiative by making stronger measures available should they be required.”
Meanwhile, the Daily Beast reported on Wednesday that a group of hawkish conservatives — led by the Foreign Policy Initiative, a neoconservative group founded in 2009 as a successor to the Project for the New American Century — sent a letter urging congressional leadership to act on Iran based on the model laid out by the Kirk-Menendez bill. Among the signatories are those who have been calling for war with Iran and some were the Iraq war’s most vocal advocates, including Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol, former Bush administration Pentagon official Douglas Feith, and Peter Wehner, head of the Bush administration’s Office of Strategic Initiatives.
Stephen Miles, coordinator of Win Without War, told ThinkProgress that grassroots progressives view more Iran sanctions now as a threat to diplomacy. “From my perspective, the response is overwhelming opposition to the Kirk-Menendez bill and our coalition is paying attention to who is supporting diplomacy and who is trying to sabotage it,” he said.
“Many Democrats recognize that enacting more sanctions at this delicate time is putting us on the path to war,” said Rebecca Griffin of Peace Action West. “They wisely want to give the president political space to pursue our best opportunity to address concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, and avoid the political cost of a replay of Iraq.”
The offices of Kirk and Menendez did not respond to requests for comment.
A group of security experts and former American diplomats sent a letter to Kirk and Menendez this week asking them to pull their bill, arguing that it jeopardizes the ongoing negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program and could bring the United States closer to war with Iran.
“Should the U.S. Congress decide it must unilaterally seek to add even more burdens now on this complicated and critical process, it is unlikely that the goals of our negotiations can be achieved,” they wrote, warning that “our other negotiating partners (UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China) would be displeased and would conclude that the US is no longer proceeding in good faith in accord with the [Geneva] Joint Plan of Action. This bill could lead to an unraveling of the sanctions regime that the U.S. and its partners have so patiently built.”
Five more Republicans added their names as co-sponsor of the Kirk-Menendez bill on January 9.