Senate Republicans and Democrats reached an agreement Tuesday on legislation that would give Congress the right to review any final Iran nuclear agreement, and require the Obama administration to provide periodic updates about Iran's compliance with that agreement.
And while President Barack Obama has threatened to veto prior versions of this bill, the White House said Tuesday that Obama would be willing to sign the new version worked out between the parties. "What we have made clear to Democrats and Republicans in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is that the president would be willing to sign the proposed compromise that is working its way through the committee," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
Those developments mean Congress has finally won the right to have a say over the details of the Iran deal, something that the Obama administration had been fighting for months. Both Republicans and Democrats have said a role for Congress is necessary because the deal will at some point involve the lifting of congressionally mandated sanctions against Iran.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and ranking committee member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) announced that they reached a deal immediately after a classified briefing by Obama administration officials about the agreement. One senator said afterwards the even during the meeting, Secretary of State John Kerry was urging the Senate not to move any legislation at all — just hours later, the White House was saying Obama would sign the bill.
The sudden shift in the White House's position most likely reflects the reality that Cardin and many other Democrats were about to support the new agreement. Obama has backed away from veto threats in the past once it's clear that legislation enjoys a veto-proof majority.
Later in the day, during committee consideration of the bill, Corker said outright that the White House changed its tune on the bill because so many Democrats support it, not because any major change was made. As if to prove his point, the committee approved the bill unanimously, in a 19-0 vote.
Cardin's support for the bill was especially important, as it wasn't clear how he would react to the legislation given his new role as the lead Democrat on the committee. Cardin replaced Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who is facing criminal corruption charges.
"Sen. Corker and I have reached an agreement on a manager's package, and we are optimistic that the manager's package will ... carry out the two major provisions of the bill," Cardin told reporters.
Those provisions are giving Congress time to approve the final agreement, and requiring updates from the administration about Iran's compliance with any final agreement that's reached.
Upon leaving the briefing, Corker said he continues to believe that Congress needs to be able to assess what's in the final deal, since the deal will at some point involve lifting sanctions that Congress imposed on Iran.
"More fully than ever, I believe Congress should play a role in ensuring that all the details that need to be in place are there," he said.
Corker said that under his agreement with Cardin, Congress would have about 52 days to review the final Iran deal, which would have to be given to Congress in early July, just after the June 30 deadline. That's about a week shorter than the review period contemplated earlier.
Many senators left today's briefing — led by Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew — with remaining questions about what exactly is in the tentative agreement announced on April 2. Once that deal was struck, the U.S. said sanctions against Iran would come off only after Iran fully implements the agreement, but Iran said sanctions would come off immediately.
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) indicated he still isn't sure what's true after the briefing.
"They briefed us, and I still have concerns there is no framework agreement," he said, noting that the U.S. and Iran seem to have different interpretations of the deal. "In that sense, it does not appear that there is an agreement at all here."
Kirk added that Kerry and other officials just "glossed over" those differences during the briefing.
Earlier in the day, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) indicated that Congress must have a role in approving the Iran deal because the Obama administration can't be trusted to describe what's in it. "We shouldn't just count on the administration, who appears to want a deal at any cost," he said.
Corker's committee was scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon to vote on the legislation.
— Fred Lucas contributed to this story