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Iran Sanctions Held Up by Competing Senators, Chamber Schedule

Johnson initially indicated he would not craft an Iran sanctions bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Johnson initially indicated he would not craft an Iran sanctions bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Though many senators have made public demands for new sanctions on Iran, the effort in the chamber has been fractured by an apparent committee turf war and members offering competing proposals.

Even if senators were able to coalesce around a single proposal, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and negotiators on a defense bill have cut off  the opportunity to amend it.

Technically, the Senate Banking Committee has jurisdiction over sanctions legislation. Chairman Tim Johnson, D-S.D., said last week he would be working on his own framework, after initially indicating he would not draft a bill in light of the multilateral agreement between Western powers and Iran on the country’s nuclear program.

Those with Foreign Relations Committee ties are working on their own bills as well. Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., is working with Illinois Republican Mark S. Kirk, while Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is working with John McCain, R-Ariz., and others.

“I was just talking to a Banking member on the other side of the aisle. You know, Banking has the jurisdiction but the committee members themselves will tell you that, obviously, it is a foreign policy issue. So trying to all of the sudden get into the issue … of Iran is difficult for Banking members who don’t sit on the Foreign Relations Committee,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the top Republican on Foreign Relations and an active member of the Banking Committee.

“I know that our staff is obviously, right now this very second while we’re talking, involved with all of their staffs to try to figure out the best piece of legislation, first,” Corker told CQ Roll call late last week. “At present, let’s face it, Harry [Reid]’s going to block anything from occurring between now and the end of the year. He’s pretty much stated that. So I think the general belief is, unless there’s some breakthrough momentarily, that whatever we do will be done after the first of the year, if it’s done now.”

Reid previously said he would move an Iran sanctions bill between the Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, but that declaration largely was designed to clear the way for defense negotiators to come to agreement. Had they not, the fate of the defense authorization bill would have been in doubt. The Senate still needs to pass the legislation this week in order for it to become law, which has happened every year for more than 50 years.

McCain, who said he is working with Graham, expressed frustration over what he believed was a move from the Democrats to back away from the duo’s efforts.

“There was one vehicle but we’re not sure that the Democrats are going to stick with it — so the rest of us, Sen. Graham and I and others are working on a piece of legislation,” McCain said, when asked whether he was concerned that once the defense authorization bill passes, supporters of increased sanctions would lose their avenue to passage.

Menendez and Kirk were expected to unveil their legislation last week, but the Illinois Republican underwent emergency surgery to remove his gallbladder and has not returned to Washington since.

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