A Nuclear Option for the Iran Deal

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

“Senate Democrats took the dramatic step Thursday of eliminating filibusters for most nominations by presidents, a power play they said was necessary to fix a broken system but one that Republicans said will only rupture it further. Democrats used a rare parliamentary move to change the rules so that . . .”

* * *

. . . so that what? That was how the Washington Post began its dispatch, back in 2013, in respect of the Senate Democrats use of the parliamentary “nuclear option” of doing away with cloture. But for what did the Democrats cast aside the 60-vote rule on cloture that had obtained for what the Post called “nearly four decades”? It turns out that they did it to get three left-wing judges onto the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

What a piffle compared to the constitutional crisis over the Iran vote. Here is a major international agreement — a treaty by any other name — that is unable to get an up-or-down vote in the Senate because of the rule of cloture. The fact that a 42-vote minority of the 100 Senators are ready to prevent the resolution on the agreement even going to the floor for a vote is an astounding development. It’s astounding because of the betrayal of the understandings implicit in the Corker bill, which was passed by a nearly unanimous Senate precisely to give Congress a chance to have a say on the Iran deal.

It’s astounding, too, because it underscores how frightened the president and the few senators who are with him are of the optics of this situation. We are entering a major international compact that will make the ayatollahs who rule Iran the contract partners of the administration. Surely that is something on which it would be logical for the Senate to have a say. Instead the measure is being blocked by the Democrats from coming to the floor, with their methodology being cloture

So why hasn’t the Republican leadership in the Senate — not to mention the Democrats who side against the appeasement of the Iranian regime — used the nuclear option on the nuclear deal? Given the precedent set by the Democrats, what is the logic of letting cloture get in the way of an up-or-down vote on the Iranian appeasement? Particularly since the Democrats agreed in effect when they voted for the Corker bill that cloture would not be used to prevent a vote.

Under the nuclear option, as it is summed up in the Wikipedia, the presiding officer of the Senate would rule that a simple majority could end debate and a majority then upholds the move. It is true that the Republican leader, Senator McConnell, was against the nuclear option, back when it was used in respect of advising and consenting on judges. He called it a “power grab,” according to the Washington Post’s account, and reckoned it was a “sad day in the history of the Senate.”

But, hey, the New York Times was all for it. “Democracy Returns to the Senate” was the headline over its editorial. “[n]ow that the Senate has begun to tear down undemocratic procedures, the precedent set on Thursday will increase the pressure to end those filibusters, too,” opined it. So how about now? Why are the Republicans hanging back from bringing the Iran deal to the Senate floor? It is doubly logical given that the whole structure of the Iran deal is designed precisely to circumvent the treaty clauses of the Constitution.

Treaties (like the granting of judgeships with life tenure) are precisely supposed to be the joint venture of the president and the states, acting through the Senate, in which Rhode Island and California have the same sway. If the people were to have been involved the advice and consent of the House could have been thrown in. It’s not that we nurse doubts about the filibuster, per se. The Constitution specifically grants to “each House” the authority to “determine of Rules of its Proceedings.”

After all, it’s not the Senate’s job to be democratic. If it were, the equal apportionment of the states would not exist. Democracy is the assignment, to mark the point again, of the House. But neither do we see why any Senate majority should shrink from using the authority of the rules clause to make what rules its majority deems fit to get a vote on the Iran appeasement. The matter is set to come up again next week, and the latest Pew Poll shows that support for the Iran deal is dwindling, with approval falling to 21% and disapproval rising to 49%. It’s a reminder that American voters have nuclear options of their own.

The New York Sun

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