Facing a wave of strong dissent from their conservative rank-and-file members, House Republican leaders now have changed their strategy on holding a vote of disapproval on the Iran nuclear deal, which was expected Friday.
Despite all the wrangling, Republicans in the House cannot prevent the deal from being implemented, but some are hoping to delay the process.
Republican lawmakers who left a special meeting with their leaders late Wednesday afternoon told reporters that instead of a single vote, the House most likely would hold three separate votes by Friday on the international deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program.
The details have not been finalized, but members said one vote would be a resolution to approve the Iran nuclear deal, instead of a message to disapprove it, which the Senate is set to vote on. Some Republicans say this would force Democrats to go on record as supporting the deal or force them to publicly break with President Barack Obama. The president lobbied hard for the deal, which members of his administration spent 18 months negotiating.
Reports said a second vote would be on preventing the United States from lifting sanctions on Iran as part of complying with the deal. It is not clear the Senate would take up the measure.
A third vote would be a nonbinding measure to express a sense of the House that the Obama administration failed to fully inform Congress of the details of a deal because members have not been able to see the texts of side deals.
Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus triggered the shake-up. They demanded the Obama administration send the two side deals between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency to Congress as part of the deal under consideration.
They argue the clock on a congressional review of the deal will not start ticking until the side deals are submitted.
But under legislation approved earlier this year in the Senate, Congress has 60 days to review the deal before the White House can begin lifting sanctions on Tehran as part of the nuclear deal. That time period expires September 17.
Both the House and Senate originally were expected to hold votes on a resolution of disapproval of the deal before that date.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said Wednesday that Obama lost most members of Congress and the American people when he allowed Iran to continue on the path toward acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Boehner has faced repeated revolts by conservative members of his party in the past on a number of issues. One such revolt, which tied a spending measure to the president’s health care reform plan, led to a 16-day partial government shutdown in October 2013.
This internal drama over the Iran nuclear deal was unexpected because Republicans are united against it.
On the Senate side, debate on the Iran nuclear deal disapproval resolution continues. Senate Democrats have secured 42 votes in support of the deal, one more than needed to block a disapproval vote in the Senate.
Senate leaders have not yet announced how and when a vote will take place, but the 42 votes in the Senate mean Obama is not likely to have to use his presidential veto to ensure he can implement the international deal with Iran starting September 17.
Debate across D.C.
While the fate of the nuclear pact is no longer in doubt, presidential contenders and lawmakers of both parties spoke about it across Washington, airing arguments sure to echo in U.S. elections next year.
Tea party Republicans showed up to hear Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and businessman Donald Trump, both presidential candidates who have condemned the accord.
“I’ve been doing deals for a long time," Trump said. "Never, ever, ever in my life have I seen any transaction so incompetently negotiated as our deal with Iran.”
Some people traveled from as far away as Texas to attend the rally.
The pact "gives [Iran] $150 billion to build nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles to shoot — that’s about the dumbest thing you can do that I can think of,” said attendee Charles Anderson.
But across town, another voice in the presidential fray stood up for the nuclear deal.
“Is it perfect? Of course not," Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton said in a speech at the Brookings Institution. "No agreement like this ever is. But is it a strong agreement? Yes, it is. And we absolutely should not turn it down.”
Debate continued inside the Capitol as well.
“Many Republicans opposed this agreement before they read it. Senator Cruz opposed it within an hour of its announcement,” said Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said that "any objective assessment of this deal must conclude that it will strengthen the [Iranian] supreme leader’s regime. No question about it.”
The Iran accord also has prompted a pledge in the Republican presidential contest: “Any commander-in-chief worthy of defending this nation should be prepared to stand up on January 20, 2017, and rip to shreds this catastrophic deal,” Cruz said to rally attendees.
But in her speech, Clinton said, "Several Republican candidates boast, ‘I’ll tear up this agreement in 2017’ — more than a year after it’s been implemented. That’s not leadership. That’s recklessness.”
VOA's Michael Bowman contributed to this report.