WASHINGTON (AP) – The House was poised Thursday to overwhelmingly approve a bill that would allow Congress to review and potentially reject a nuclear deal with Iran that’s still being negotiated by the U.S. and its partners.
If approved and signed by President Barack Obama, the legislation would give Congress a say on what could be a significant international accord aimed at getting Iran to curb its nuclear program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.
Negotiators from the U.S. and five other nations are rushing to reach a deal with Tehran by the end of June.
Obama initially threatened to veto the bill, but then said he’d sign it if it was not changed from the bipartisan version that the Senate backed 98-1.
“Today we will act to ensure that Congress and the people will have an opportunity to review any potential agreement with Iran,” House Speaker John Boehner said.
Obama, meanwhile, is meeting at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland with Arab leaders in hopes of easing their fears about an emerging deal. The president will try to convince them that U.S. overtures to Iran would not come at the expense of commitments to their security.
The Iran nuclear legislation would bar Obama from waiving congressional sanctions for at least 30 days while lawmakers examine any final deal. The bill would stipulate that if senators disapprove of the deal, Obama would lose his current power to waive certain economic penalties Congress has imposed on Iran.
The bill would require Congress to pass a resolution of disapproval to reject the deal, an action that Obama almost certainly would veto. Congress then would have to muster votes from two-thirds of each chamber to override the veto.
Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, backed the measure, saying it would strengthen the U.S. negotiating position with Tehran.
“Instead of Iranian negotiators knowing that they can wear-down the administration, this now injects Congress as an important back-stop,” Royce said.
New York Rep. Eliot Engel, ranking Democrat on the panel, urged bipartisan passage, saying: “Let’s get this bill to the president’s desk with a single voice.”
At the same time, he lamented that the nuclear talks were not addressing Iran’s threat to destroy Israel, Americans being held captive in the country, Iran’s backing of militant groups and its involvement in Iraq, Yemen and Syria.
Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., said he opposed the bill because it wasn’t needed. He said Congress already has the authority to lift or retain sanctions Congress has levied against Iran. “We have the cards. We do not have to choke this deal in the crib,” Ellison said.
Despite some opposition from House Republicans, the chamber’s leadership prevented the bill from being amended so the House will vote on the same version that passed the Senate.
Also on Thursday, the House is considering a defense policy bill that authorizes U.S. military spending, with a final vote expected on Friday. Obama has threatened to veto the House bill, which historically has garnered overwhelming bipartisan support.
Boehner chided Democrats for pulling their support for the bill. Democrats argue that the GOP wants to ignore automatic spending caps that Congress imposed a few years ago when it comes to funding the military, but wants to adhere to them when it comes to other domestic spending.
“This shouldn’t be a tough vote,” Boehner said.
“I think it’s downright shameful that they are even contemplating turning back on the American troops, especially those (Democrats) on the Armed Services Committee who voted for this bill in committee.”
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office quickly responded, saying that Boehner was among 160 Republicans who voted against the defense authorization bill in 2010, the year that the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” – the law that barred gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals from openly serving in the military – was added to the bill.
The Senate Armed Services Committee also is wrapping up its version of the bill.