But privately the political divide between President
Both the administration and the senators stand to benefit by staking out seemingly opposing views, which could work to achieve the common goal of a nuclear-free Iran without upsetting the delicate talks underway by the U.S., Iran and five major foreign powers.
The public standoff allows the White House to send a strong message to the Iranians that Obama is willing to confront allies in his party to protect the interim agreement reached in November, expected to go into effect Monday, which requires the Iranians to halt some of their nuclear activity in exchange for modest sanctions relief while a final deal is negotiated. It's also a not-so-subtle reminder to Iran that if it reneges on the deal, U.S. lawmakers are poised to get tougher.
At the same time, the senators who have signed on to the bill — a robust, nearly filibuster-proof majority of 59 that includes at least 16
But an actual vote on the bill does not appear imminent and, in fact, may never come.
Senate Majority Leader
The fuzzy timeline appears to be fine with many Democratic senators who are backing the bill. Some say privately they would prefer to let the diplomatic efforts play out than to take a vote at all.
AIPAC continues to push
Nevertheless, the White House is not taking any chances, voicing firm opposition to the measure.
"My preference is for peace and diplomacy, and this is one of the reasons why I've sent the message to Congress that now is not the time for us to impose new sanctions," Obama said Monday during a White House event. "Now is the time for us to allow the diplomats and technical experts to do their work."
Last week, a White House statement appeared to provoke supporters of the sanctions bill, saying it would torpedo talks and increase the chances of a military confrontation. "If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action, they should be upfront with the American public and say so," the statement said.
Senators bristled at the suggestion that they are warmongering, a sign that the administration may have miscalculated the way its rhetoric would be received on Capitol Hill.
Rather than encourage senators to back off, some dug in. The issue is likely to come up Wednesday when Obama meets with Senate Democratic leaders.
"A lot of people were taken aback by it and turned off," said a Senate Democratic aide, who had permission to speak anonymously about the private thinking of lawmakers. "That includes supporters of the bill and those who do not support the bill, those in government and those outside of government. It was very poorly received."
Menendez responded with a hearty defense of his legislation in a
"The proposed legislation is a clarifying action. It allows all sides to negotiate in certainties and provides one year of space for the parties to continue talking. It spells out precisely the consequences should the agreement fail. This should motivate Iranians to negotiate honestly and seriously."