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Senate OKs bill giving Congress review of Iran deal

Measure had been held up, primarily due to GOP infighting about how much teeth the legislation should have

The U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to pass a bill giving Congress the right to review — and potentially reject — any final nuclear agreement with Iran.

In a 98 to 1 vote, the measure was sent to the House of Representatives, which is expected to consider it as soon as next week. The White House has said President Barack Obama would sign it into law if it also passes the House, as expected.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said it was imperative for the American people to have a chance to review any final deal that is reached with Iran and to have a say in its outcome.

“The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act offers the best chance for our constituents, through the Congress they elect, to weigh in on the White House negotiations with Iran. And make no mistake, they need to have that opportunity,” he said.

The legislation would block Obama from waiving congressional sanctions for at least 30 days while lawmakers weigh in on any final deal with Iran. It also would stipulate that if senators disapprove the deal, Obama would lose the current authority he holds to waive certain economic penalties Congress has imposed on Iran.

But the current bill would require Congress to pass a resolution of disapproval to reject the deal, which would almost certainly be vetoed by Obama. Then, Congress would be required to muster votes from two-thirds of each chamber to override the veto, which is why the White House has signaled it tepid support for the bill and plans to sign it.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner issued a statement supporting the bill shortly after the Senate vote.

Passage in the Senate came after months of intense discussion of how Congress could best have a voice in the ongoing negotiations between the United States and five other world powers with Iran over its nuclear program.

Thursday's vote comes after a key hurdle was cleared last month when the bill was cleared by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a necessary first step, but complications have continued to dog the resolution's ultimate passage. 

It was complicated by a dispute between Republicans and Democrats over a Republican invitation for Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu, a critic of the nuclear talks, to address Congress, and the indictment of one of the bill's co-sponsors, Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez.

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton, the only member of the Senate who voted against the bill's passage on Thursday, angered the White House by writing a letter supported by 46 colleagues to Iran's leaders in March saying that any nuclear deal would last only as long as Obama remained in office. But Cotton, who wants any diplomatic efforts with Iran to be codified by Senate-ratified treaty that would require a two-thirds vote to make valid any agreement, found himself bereft of allies on Thursday.

During two weeks of debate in the Senate, the bill was threatened by disputes between Republicans over amendments seeking to toughen the bill.

The bill's supporters said that many of the roughly 67 proposed amendments, all filed by Republicans, would have killed the measure by alienating Democrats or prompting Obama to veto it. For example, a few Republicans, including 2016 presidential hopeful Marco Rubio, tried to include a requirement that any nuclear deal include Iran's recognition of Israel's right to exist as a state.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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