WASHINGTON — Republicans say they can stop President Barack Obama from inking a bad deal that might allow Iran to field a nuclear weapon. Many Democrats argue Congress has a constitutional duty to review and bless — or scuttle — any deal.
On holding a vote on Iran's nuclear program, there's bipartisan support. But will both chambers actually ever vote? There are reasons to harbor doubts.
Being perceived as tough on Iran is something many lawmakers in both parties view as a political winner. And, right now, a bill being pushed by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., that would set up a congressional vote on any deal is the only game in town.
The White House wants to find a compromise, and it's aiming somewhere between the Corker bill and Congress doing nothing.
The combination of the calendar and public opinion just might help the White House get what it wants.
The Corker bill likely could move out of committee next week. But its fate after that is uncertain.
So the Senate's agenda-setter probably is thinking about a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll that found Americans are in no mood for war with Iran. And experts say military force would be the only other credible way to shut down Tehran's nuclear program.
Only 5five percent of Democrats surveyed support moving ahead with a bombing-only plan to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons. But McConnell likely is mulling what to make of the poll's more telling conclusion: Only 11 percent of Republicans prefer a way ahead that only features US military force.
With public opinion so opposed to bombing Iran's nuclear facilities, McConnell and House Speaker Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, have to consider the potential fallout if their chambers kill any eventual deal.
And the political stakes only get higher as the weeks and months go by.
The White House can extend the clock by seeking the compromise officials say they want to let Congress weigh in. Such talks could go on for months.
And top administration officials no doubt will step up their lobbying campaign to convince lawmakers to hold off on voting for the Corker legislation until that compromise is reached.
Are that many members of the president's own party really going to help Republicans defy voters by moving closer to war in another Middle East country? Again, there are reasons to harbor doubts.
And if McConnell and Corker lack 67 votes, what's the point of putting it on the floor? A show vote that could damage the chamber's Republicans who are running for president in 2016? Seems risky.
Once the calendar flips to the May, the White House surely will argue Congress should let the talks between Tehran and six world powers play out before holding floor debates and votes on the Corker bill.
And if those countries do strike a deal with Iran on or around June 30, lawmakers will almost certainly insist on a series of public and closed-door hearings with Secretary of State John Kerry and other top administration officials to fully understand any potential pact.
"I want to see where we're at after June 30," Rep. Steve Israel of New York, a House Democratic leadership member, told MSNBC on Wednesday.
Israel wants a congressional vote. But waiting until after the June 30 deadline has come and gone puts the legislation at risk.
Given Congress' penchant for three-day work weeks, a series of hearings alone easily could kill most of July. Then, Congress will take off all of August and the first week of September for its annual summer recess.
By the time all of that plays out, the 2016 presidential election cycle will be in full swing. That will force GOP leaders to think hard about whether they really want to buck voters by scuttling pursuit of a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear arms question.
All of these factors led Mackenzie Eaglen, a former Senate defense aide now with the American Enterprise Institute, to say on last Sunday's "Defense News with Vago Muradian" program that it's likely Congress will never vote on Corker's bill.
"If they [leadership] can put him off then … this might die the slow death that the AUMF — the authorization for the use of military force — is going to do, as well," Eaglen said.
But a deal in late June wouldn't forestall an armed conflict at some point.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., on Wednesday told WTOP radio that the parameters of a possible deal made public last week contain strong verification measures.
That means if Iran violates the agreement, whomever occupies the Oval Office at that moment might have only one option: War.