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Menendez Pulls Pro-Israel Bill that would Divide Democrats

Amended U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act would have let Congress vote for or against a deal with Iran, over its nuclear program.
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 5/21/2014, 8:31 AM

U.S. Senator Robert Menendez
U.S. Senator Robert Menendez
Reuters

Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has removed a key piece of pro-Israel legislation from the committee's agenda, which would have allowed Congress to vote for or against any deal that is negotiated with Iran over its nuclear arms program.

The decision to pull the bill – the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act – was reported by The Cable, which cited congressional aides who explained that the bill would have forced Democrats to choose sides between the White House and members of the pro-Israel community.

The U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act would expand cooperation between the two nations in a number of areas, including defense, intelligence, energy, and homeland security. It enjoys broad bipartisan support and would have likely passed the foreign relations committee, but Menendez decided not to have the committee vote on it when he learned that the committee's ranking member, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), planned to introduce an amendment related to the Obama administration's nuclear talks with Iran.

“Should President Obama reach a deal with Iran and five other world powers to restrain the country's nuclear program, the Corker measure would have forced the president to submit the full plan to Congress within three days,” reported The Cable. “The amendment would then give Congress the right to hold a 'vote of disapproval' on the final deal and make way for hearings on the matter. Notably, the legislation would not give Congress the power to block the deal, only to express its will on the issue.”

Such a vote would have likely divided Democrats, forcing many of them to choose between standing behind the White House in a midterm election season, and standing up for their beliefs regarding the Iran deal – which many are deeply skeptical of.

In a statement Monday evening, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee supported Corker's amendment. "AIPAC supports provisions such as the Corker Amendment which underscore the key role that Congress must play in defining the terms of an acceptable deal and its implementation," an AIPAC official said.

A spokesman for Menendez declined to comment. An unidentified Senate aide blamed Corker. "It is deeply disappointing that a bipartisan bill cosponsored by over 60 senators sending a strong message extending far beyond the United States ... is being politicized when it should be passed," said the aide. "This is the right bill for the right time as the United States and Israel continue to make advances in technology, homeland security, agriculture, and other areas. It is not the appropriate vehicle to legislate on Iran." He also expressed frustration that the amendment was introduced just days before the markup of the bill, which had been in the works for more than a year.