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Iran Briefing Unable to Blunt Sanctions Push

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew failed to convince senators not to pursue a new round of sanctions against Iran at a closed briefing Wednesday — although any floor action would likely be delayed until January.

 A Senate aide close to the talks said a bill could surface as early as today. Meanwhile, Banking Chairman Tim Johnson, D-S.D., who has lead jurisdiction on sanctions legislation, said he will announce his intentions Thursday as he left a briefing about the negotiations between the P5+1 powers and Iran.

Regardless of Johnson, a bill could easily bypass the Banking Committee under a scenario envisioned by GOP hawks Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona.

McCain said Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., may back the use of a fairly common expedited procedure under the Senate’s Rule 14. That’s a move that any senator might be able to make, even if Reid did not agree.

“I think it would be wise,” Graham said of new sanctions that would take effect after six months if the talks with Iran aren’t fruitful. “Sen. Menendez is a very articulate advocate for the idea that the only reason the Iranians are at the table today is because of pressure. I don’t believe they’ve had a change of heart about their nuclear ambitions.”

“I think we can produce something that the president — would override his veto,” Graham said.

Menendez himself exited the briefing in a hurry to get up to the Senate floor on an unrelated flood insurance matter, bypassing cameras.

Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill.,said he suspected the time wouldn’t be there before the end of the year. The floor schedule is currently clogged with what looks to be an extended debate on mostly midlevel nominations.

Graham also said he wants assurances from Reid that a vote on Iran sanctions will come up by the middle of January.

“I think the public sees Iran differently as a threat to us than Syria. So, I just really do believe that we will get a vote if we get a bipartisan bill,” Graham said.

Durbin indicated as much, saying that if it’s the will of the Senate, it would eventually happen.

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