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Senate Schedule Changed After Iran Vote Delay

The Senate schedule this week had a late change. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
The Senate schedule this week had a late change. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

With the House out of town this week, the Senate will be the focal point on Capitol Hill, and there’s no shortage of activity ahead.  

In a sign of how the Senate operates, the schedule has already changed. Senators left ahead of the March 5 snowstorm, following a noncontroversial nomination vote, anticipating the next item of legislative business would be a bid by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to turn to a bipartisan bill introduced by Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., designed to force the White House’s hand into giving lawmakers a say in any potential nuclear deal with Iran.  

But facing certain defeat on the cloture vote just to take up the bill (after Democratic caucus supporters revolted over the timing), the Kentucky Republican has changed course. Aides said last week the Senate would instead move ahead with anti-human trafficking legislation, a predictably more bipartisan endeavor.  

Corker was quick to issue a statement on March 5 praising the scheduling change, saying he wants to get sufficient support to overcome an already threatened veto.  

“The strongest signal we can send to the U.S. negotiators is having a veto-proof majority in support of Congress weighing in on any final nuclear deal with Iran,” Corker said. “This week, our bipartisan legislation gained momentum with four additional Democrats offering their support for the bill. I greatly appreciate the Majority Leader’s commitment to getting the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act across the finish line by allowing the vote to occur at a time when we will more likely generate a veto-proof majority.”  

New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, the ranking Democrat on Foreign Relations, has led the group of supporters who want to forestall floor action until after the committee moves forward, as well as after a March 24 deadline for reaching a framework with the Iranians.  

Delaying Corker’s Iran legislation won’t keep foreign policy off the front-burner, it will just turn the attention away from the floor. The Armed Services Committee has a scheduled closed briefing Tuesday at the subcommittee level on the threat posed by Iran.  

At Foreign Relations, Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin E. Dempsey are all scheduled to testify about the other great legislative issue in the foreign affairs space: President Barack Obama’s request for authorizing the use of military force against the terror group known as ISIS.  

There’s been little movement on that issue since Obama transmitted the formal request to Capitol Hill and lawmakers. Bridging the gap between senators who believe the president’s request is too broad and those who think it could restrict the president’s war powers could prove impossible.  

The base trafficking bill is expected to be a bipartisan measure led by Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, which has already been amended and unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Related legislation spearheaded by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., moved through the committee unanimously on the same day, Feb. 26.  

“Human trafficking is a terrible atrocity that unfortunately happens every day in this country. It is not limited to the big cities or our nation’s coasts; it stretches across the nation, even in rural parts of the Midwest,” Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley said at the time. “I’m pleased that my colleagues on the Judiciary Committee acted today to reduce human trafficking in the United States and help the victims to heal.”  

The bipartisanship on the anti-trafficking issue was overshadowed that Thursday morning at the Judiciary panel by another item on the agenda: the committee’s vote on the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be the next attorney general, replacing Eric H. Holder Jr.  

The Lynch nomination, which Obama first announced last year when Democrats were still in the majority, has yet to be scheduled for floor consideration. Some conservatives are trying to pressure McConnell not to call it up at all, and the Senate Democratic caucus sent a letter to the majority leader pressing for swift action, calls likely to continue to amplify in the coming week.  

“This nomination … has been languishing for nearly four months. I’ve heard time and time again from my Republican colleagues that they think Eric Holder’s lawless … and want him to leave,” Klobuchar told reporters on March 5. “And, yet, here we have this incredibly qualified person to come in, and it’s been stalled out.”  


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