Senate overwhelmingly passes Iran nuclear bill

Washington (CNN)The Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill Thursday to give Congress the authority to review an emerging nuclear agreement with Iran, despite vocal opposition from some conservative Republicans who said the bill was not strong enough.

The vote was 98 to 1. The lone dissenter was freshman Tom Cotton of Arkansas, a staunch advocate against an Iran deal.
Next, the measure will go to the House, which plans to take it up next week. If passed there, it would go to President Barack Obama, who has said he would sign it so long as it didn't change dramatically from when it was approved a few weeks ago by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a rare unanimous vote.
    Senate leaders and bill managers had fended off a series of amendments they considered "poison pill" proposals from Republicans on the right flank that could have scuttled the legislation. Two were defeated on roll call votes. The rest got bottled up in negotiations that ultimately went nowhere after Cotton went around his leaders and tried to force floor votes on two other controversial amendments opposed by many senators of both parties.
    One would have required Iran's hardline regime to recognize Israel's right to exist as a condition for a nuclear agreement and the lifting of long-imposed sanctions against Iran.
    In response, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a proponent of the bill, set up Thursday's procedural vote on the question of whether to end debate on the measure. McConnell strongly supported the bill because, like a lot of Republicans, he is deeply suspicious about whether the Obama administration will strike a tough deal with Iran.
    "The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act offers the best chance for our constituents, through the Congress they elect, to weigh in on the White House's negotiations with Iran," McConnell said on the floor. "These talks have devolved into something else altogether. Instead of ending Iran's nuclear program, the interim agreement would actually bestow international blessing for Iran to continue it."
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    The bill would block the President from using his authority to waive congressionally-mandated sanctions against Iran for close to two months while Congress studies an agreement and decides whether to vote on a resolution of disapproval. Still, the measure gives a strong advantage to the President to seal a deal. That's because the President could veto a disapproval resolution and then block an override effort with just 41 votes. 2016 presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and other Republicans were furious their leaders had agreed to the disadvantage.
    In a statement following the bill's passage Thursday afternoon, Cotton said the Iran deal should be submitted as a treaty requiring a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate.
    "President Obama wants to reverse this rule, requiring opponents to get a two-thirds vote to stop his dangerous deal," Cotton said. "But Congress should not accept this usurpation, nor allow the president any grounds to claim that Congress blessed his nuclear deal. I will work with Republicans and Democrats to stop a dangerous deal that would put Iran on the path to obtaining a nuclear weapon."
    The magnitude of the Iran deal was not lost on senators as they prepared to vote.
    "Passage of the bill will result in either forcing critical and absolutely necessary improvements in the deal now being cooked, or defeating a bad deal if one is presented," Sen. Dan Coats, R-Indiana, a member of the Intelligence Committee who is retiring from the Senate, said earlier Thursday. "The stakes are beyond calculation. I regard this to be the most consequential issue of my entire public career."