The foreign-policy showdown over the Iran deal was actually last week, and proponents of the international agreement prevailed. After months of contentious debate, a Republican proposal to kill the diplomatic solution needed 60 votes to advance, but it came up short.
Last night, as if Congress didn’t have real work to do, the GOP-led Senate demanded a do-over.
Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked another vote on a resolution disapproving of the Iran nuclear deal, reprising the result of a vote last week.Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, had called for a second vote despite protests from Democrats that it was a waste of time. Mr. McConnell insisted that senators needed to rethink their support for the accord, but 42 Democrats – the same number as last week – teamed to prevent the resolution from advancing.
The final roll call is online here. Note, the vote was technically 56-42 – as compared to last week’s 58-42 vote – but McConnell had to vote with Democrats for procedural reasons, and two Republican senators were on the presidential campaign trail and missed the proceedings.
Though the government is set to shut down in two weeks, McConnell intends to hold more show votes on Iran policy next week. They likely won’t go the GOP’s way, either, but that’s not the point – Republicans are playing political games because they can.
But as the political world’s focus starts to shift away from President Obama’s foreign-policy victory, it’s worth pausing to appreciate the degree to which Republicans unwittingly helped the White House prevail.
Not too long ago, it was a foregone conclusion that the measure opposing the diplomatic Iran agreement would pass both chambers of Congress. Republicans would take advantage of Democratic divisions, approve the legislation, force a presidential veto, and set the stage for a dramatic showdown on a veto-override vote – with the outcome uncertain.
But as things stand, that legislation will now pass neither chamber. Slate’s Jamelle Bouie had a good piece on this recently, explaining that Republicans shot themselves in the foot.
When the deal was still just a negotiation, Republican senators led by Tom Cotton of Arkansas sent an “open letter” to Iran’s leaders urging them to dismiss talks. Shortly afterward, Republican leaders joined with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to slam the negotiation as a deadly threat to Israel. In the following months, Republicans would say the deal was “akin to declaring war on Israel”; that Obama was “march[ing]” Israelis to the “door of the oven”; and that the president was siding with “the oppressors.” The apex of this criticism came Tuesday, when former Vice President Cheney slammed the agreement in the fiercest words possible. “I know of no nation in history that has agreed to guarantee that the means of its own destruction will be in the hands of another nation, particularly one that is hostile,” he said.None of this scared Democrats into voting against the deal. Instead, it was evidence that this fight was irreducibly partisan, with no chance of a compromise or détente. Cautious Democrats – like Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon or Cory Booker of New Jersey – had two options: They could sign on with Cheney and the GOP, or they could bolster the president. They chose the latter, and handed Obama a victory that wasn’t guaranteed.
Republicans, in other words, were their own worst enemy. They knew from the outset that they needed to persuade Democrats to side with the GOP, but Republicans just couldn’t help themselves. Their outreach muscles have atrophied to such an extent that they no longer function – and GOP lawmakers don’t even think to try to use them.
At this point, even recognizing the basic arithmetic, Republicans instinctively did what they always do: pander to the base, refuse to offer alternative policy solutions, define every dispute as overtly partisan, and characterize political rivals as enemies who must be crushed in the name of righteousness.
As regular readers know, this keeps happening to GOP lawmakers, though they refuse to learn any lessons. Republicans consistently make things worse for themselves, producing policy outcomes they abhor – on health care, on immigration, on addressing the climate crisis, on judicial nominees – though they often have only themselves to blame.