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Senate GOP Plans Abortion Debate After More Iran Deal Votes

Cornyn says senators working to address crop insurance concerns. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Cornyn says senators working to address crop insurance concerns. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senators will have another chance to break a filibuster and disapprove of the Iran deal Tuesday evening — but there’s no expectation the dynamic will change.  

Republicans expect to follow the next round of Iran votes with anti-abortion legislation, though Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas said last week GOP senators had not yet decided which bills to bring up.  

“It’s nearly unanimous, I think, the view that a shutdown doesn’t defund Planned Parenthood and it doesn’t help us maintain our majority so we can have some influence on who the next members of the United States Supreme Court are, and elect a Republican president,” Cornyn said. “Sen. [Mitch] McConnell has already talked about some pro-life legislation he’ll be filing for cloture on at the end of next week.”  

McConnell, the majority leader, has previously pledged to call a vote on a 20-week abortion ban.  

Democrats were quick to pan that idea as a waste of time with only truncated weeks before the Sept. 30 deadline for funding the federal government. But before any of that, Cornyn said the votes on the Iran deal would continue.  

“There’ll be … other opportunities for folks to change their minds [this] week, hopefully after they hear from their constituents,” Cornyn said.  

McConnell followed through on that by setting up a repeat of the failed Sept. 10 cloture vote , 58-42.  

“Democratic senators just voted to filibuster and block the American people from even having a real vote on one of the most consequential foreign policy issues of our age,” McConnell said after falling two votes short of limiting debate last week. “It’s telling that Democrats would go to such extreme lengths to prevent President Obama from even having to consider legislation on this issue. If the president is so proud of this deal, then he shouldn’t be afraid. He should wield his veto pen with pride and explain his rationale to the American people.”  

And even before the Kentucky Republican finished his exchange on the floor with Democratic counterpart, Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, the GOP campaign apparatus was firing off statements blasting Democrats up in 2016, including Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who may draw a challenge from conservative economist Larry Kudlow.  

“The extreme lengths to which Richard Blumenthal went to protect Barack Obama and his negotiations with Iran puts him at odds with … Richard Blumenthal — who earlier this year supported the Nuclear Agreement Review Act to give Congress a vote on the merits,” the National Republican Senatorial Committee said in an email.  

But the Senate is the Senate, and Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois said once Reid made clear that Democrats were prepared for a final vote on disapproving the international nuclear agreement with Iran at what’s become the customary 60 vote threshold, any chance of Iran deal supporters defecting on the procedural vote evaporated.  

“Harry had to make it clear that we were ready for a vote on final passage, so twice he offered a unanimous consent for final passage, 60 votes,” Durbin said. “They all agreed 60 votes was a standard.”  

With the super-majority requirement, the bill would fall two votes short of getting out of the Senate, and there is no reason to expect the dynamic will change this week. Speaking with reporters, Reid recalled a past Senate race in which his operation attacked the opponent for changing votes on issues.  

“People can’t be switching around. On something of this notoriety and importance? No. It would be a dumb thing for someone to do, and I’ve got a bunch of very smart senators,” Reid said.  

Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, who is in line to take over from Reid as Democratic leader, is a vocal critic of the Iran deal, and polling is decidedly on the side of Schumer and the unified Republicans.  

But the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee thinks the approach of many Republican senators may still be ripe for criticism on the campaign trail.  

“Voters will remember that Republicans were more interested in scoring political points than in having a serious discussion and their reckless letter to the Ayatollah made that absolutely clear,” DSCC National Press Secretary Sadie Weiner told CQ Roll Call.  

Weiner was referring to the March open letter from Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and 46 fellow Republicans to Iranian leadership about the limitations of Obama’s negotiating power.  

Durbin told reporters that barring a military conflict, the votes themselves on disapproving the agreement with Iran will not loom large in 2016.  

“It’s rare that a foreign policy issue is a determinative issue, but for the circumstance where we’re in a war, then it could be the only issue, which has happened in the recent past,” Durbin said. “I’d be surprised. It may affect individual votes. We clearly have some division.”

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