President Biden appears to be closing in on restoring the nuclear deal negotiated by President Obama in 2015 which blocked Iran from a nuclear weapon, and which Trump unilaterally withdrew from in 2018.
Once a deal is agreed upon, the Biden Administration will face a political battle in Congress, where legislators will be able to register objections to the deal under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA).
“Failure at this point would likely blow up the negotiations for good, leaving Iran relatively unrestricted to pursue nuclear weapons,” said Dylan Williams of J Street. “This is a high stakes political moment.”
What happens following the announcement of an agreement is a process outlined by the INARA legislation, which lays out a clear timeline for the White House and Congress going forward.
Step 1: The White House Sends the New Iran Deal to Congress
INARA requires the president to send the full agreement and all supporting documents to Congress “not later than 5 calendar days” after reaching an agreement.
The president is legally required to certify that the agreement will not threaten US security and will fulfill the purpose of blocking Iran from pursuing a military nuclear weapons program. The president must also certify and outline the monitoring and verification measures that will ensure Iran’s compliance with the deal.
Step 2: Congress has 30 Days to Review and Take Action
Once Congress receives the details, documents and certifications from the White House, lawmakers have a 30-day window to review and discuss the deal.
During this period, committees in the House and Senate may hold hearings and seek further information from the White House and other experts. The Biden Administration is prohibited from waiving any deal-related sanctions against Iran until the 30 days expire.
If Congress takes no action during the 30-day period to stop the deal, the new agreement will go into effect. This is the outcome the White House will be hoping for.
However, if both the House and Senate pass a ‘joint resolution of disapproval’, the president will be blocked from implementing the deal for an additional 12 days — leaving a presidential veto of the resolution as a last resort to save the deal.
Given the current rules in the Senate, a joint resolution would have to overcome a potential filibuster. A total of 60 Senators — all 50 Republicans and at least 10 Democrats — would have to vote for cloture to overcome the filibuster. If at least 60 votes for cloture are achieved, the Senate would proceed to limited additional debate and a simple majority vote on the resolution of disapproval. A resolution of disapproval would need a simple majority to pass in the House.
Step 3: A Potential Presidential Veto
If a resolution of disapproval passes both chambers of Congress, President Biden will be blocked from moving forward with the deal for at least 12 calendar days — but it wouldn’t be the end of the line for the deal. President Biden has the option of vetoing the joint resolution from Congress.
The legislation then gives Congress 10 calendar days to override the presidential veto. This would require two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate. If Congress fails to override the veto, President Biden can implement the deal once those 10 days are up.
In the last 12 years, presidents Obama and Trump vetoed 22 acts, rules and resolutions, with only two congressional overrides. Across American history, 7% of presidential vetoes have been successfully overridden.
What should we expect?
If Obama’s 2015 deal is any guide, the White House can expect a fierce and partisan political battle. Opponents of diplomacy are lining up to trash the deal, often misrepresenting the details with outright falsehoods.
But as former Obama advisor Ben Rhodes notes, this time Congress benefits from a clear counterfactual. “We’ve seen what it was like with the deal, we’ve seen what it was like without it,” Rhodes said earlier this year. “Tearing up the JCPOA made it look a lot better.”
Between Democratic majorities, the filibuster and the threat of a presidential veto, opponents of the deal will have an uphill battle if they seek to block the deal through Congress.
“There might have been a bit of political uncertainty the first time round, but this time lawmakers should be confident that voters support a deal despite the fear-mongering,” said Williams. “Not one supporter of the deal in 2015 lost their re-election race the following year, and polling consistently shows that a significant majority of Americans support returning to the agreement.”
In 2015, opponents in the Senate were unable to reach 60 votes for cloture on a resolution of disapproval and the review period expired. Opponents in the House did successfully pass a resolution, but they didn’t reach the numbers that would have been required to override a veto.
“It’ll be a tough fight, but supporters should be optimistic that, should a deal be announced, President Biden will score a victory here,” Williams said. “This will reverse one of Trump’s most dangerous mistakes, block Iran’s nuclear program and avoid another disastrous conflict in the Middle East.”