by Harlan Ullman, Upi'S Arnaud De Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist
Washington DC (UPI) Sep 07, 2015
Numbers count. To win the U.S. presidency, at least 270 Electoral College votes are required. To pass a bill, a majority in both houses of Congress is needed. A two-thirds majority vote in both houses will override a presidential veto. And a two-thirds vote in the Senate passes a treaty.
Next week, Congress votes on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, already unanimously approved by the U.N. Security Council. If successfully implemented, the JCPOA will ensure Iran does not become a nuclear weapons state for the next decade and a half and presumably for much longer. Congress will reject this agreement with some Democrats joining all the Republican members in dissent. The threshold number of votes needed for the administration to sustain a presidential veto is 34 in the Senate or 146 in the House.
As of today, the White House believes it has at least 34 Democratic senators who will vote to sustain a presidential veto, meaning the bill to disapprove the JCPOA will be defeated. Yet, this is hardly a resounding victory. And the damage from the political and reputational fallout that will accrue from a near no-confidence vote will be of high order.
Each of the other signatory states -- Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia -- unequivocally supports the agreement with virtually no dissent from their parliaments and legislative bodies. Of course, factions in Iran have complained -- and with good reason. Iran has made sweeping concessions in reducing uranium stockpiles, decommissioning large numbers of their centrifuges, accepting intrusive verification and reconverting their single plutonium reactor to other uses.
What do these fellow signatories know about the agreement that we do not? Or are critics in the United States and in the Israeli government correct in asserting that this agreement will guarantee a nuclear-armed Iran, precipitate a regional nuclear arms race and fill Iran's pockets with billions of dollars to destabilize the Middle East even further once sanctions are lifted? And are these same critics correct in accusing the other signatories of cynically supporting this agreement only for economic gain and greater access into Iran's oil markets when they open up?
Getting treaty approval from the Senate has been far from automatic. Woodrow Wilson failed to win ratification of the Versailles Treaty ending World War I. Richard Nixon chose to make the first SALT arrangement to reduce strategic weapons with the Soviet Union an executive agreement while submitting the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty to the Senate. And the Law of the Sea Treaty, supported by Republican and Democratic White Houses alike, has languished in Senate limbo for over thirty years.
From every perspective, not even a miracle could deliver congressional approval of the agreement. The best outcome for the White House is preventing the bill from coming to the floor for a vote. And the only way for that to happen is to exploit arcane Senate rules.
If a bill is blocked in the Senate, a super majority of 60 (of 100) votes is required to move that bill to the floor. But 41 votes against will kill the bill. Even if the House rejected the agreement by a huge majority, without 60 votes, the Senate could not act on the bill and it would die. No veto would be needed and the Congressional drama over the resolution would become history.
Winning by sustaining a veto override would be an ugly victory. Other countries are watching closely, particularly those whose interests often are in direct conflict with ours. What conclusions would be drawn about the coherence, consistency and reliability of American policy or promises? After all, every Republican presidential candidate has stated that, if elected, on day one, a first executive action would be to abrogate the JCPOA.
So far, none of the media has asked any Republican contender whether they would revoke the JCPOA even if it were working, underscoring the Kafkaesque nature of a campaign process and emotional debate over the JCPOA dominated by sound bites and not always by sound reasoning.
What should the White House do? Obviously, winning 41 votes in the Senate in order to table the bill is vital. While this outcome could only result from a partisan Democratic-only vote, as would preventing a veto override, a non-vote will prove far less destructive to American interests.
Foreigners marvel at this country for good and bad reasons. It has limitless opportunities. It also has a political process that often defies rationality. Forty one, not 34, is the magic number to give the sense that America can act as an adult country.
Harlan Ullman is UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist; Chairman of the Killowen Group that advises leaders of government and business; and Senior Advisor at both Washington D.C.'s Atlantic Council and Business Executives for National Security. His latest book is A Handful of Bullets: How the Murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand Still Menaces the Peace.
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