Democrats Bail On New Iran Sanctions

For anyone who doubts the power of the bully pulpit, here’s one reason not to. Earlier this month, it was reported that a new Iran sanctions bill was all but assured passage in the Senate. On Tuesday, President Obama announced in his State of the Union address Tuesday that if Congress passes that bill, he’ll veto it. Less than a day later, three Democrats who’d cosponsored that very bill suddenly reversed course and said that well, maybe it’s not so important to pass new sanctions right now after all.

On Tuesday night, Joe Manchin told MSNBC that he’d like to “give peace a chance,” and didn’t support voting on the bill while the U.S.’s negotiations with Iran were still ongoing. When asked about the legislation in an interview Wednesday, Chris Coons said that “now is not the time for a vote on the Iran sanctions bill,” and the same day, Kirsten Gillibrand said that,“[a]fter speaking with the President, I am comfortable giving him the additional time requested before this bill goes to the floor."

This is a drastic turnaround from early January, when the bill's supporters were boasting of a veto-proof majority. They've been saying this whole time that the legislation merely gives the White House the option to impose new sanctions if negotiations fail, but it’s actually much harsher than that. For example, the bill would require that the new sanctions go into place unless Obama himself can certify that Iran has never, directly or indirectly, at any point in the country’s history, supported a proposed or actualized terrorist attack against the United States. One could make a decent case that that's already an impossible qualification to fulfill.

Regardless of its contents, the very passage of any new sanctions bill would almost certainly drive Iran from the negotiating table and undo the many months of slow but steady diplomacy between the two countries. While it’s still possible that the bill’s supporters will round up enough votes for a veto-proof majority, that seems distinctly less likely now.