"We in good faith agreed to introduce this legislation and take it through the committee process and to the floor so that Congress—which was responsible for bringing Iran to the table in the first place to negotiate—would have a role in reviewing the agreement before it goes into effect ... because, as I said last night, a deal cannot be built on trust alone," an irate Menendez said on the floor Tuesday night, threatening to filibuster his own bill. "Now, I was talking about Iran; I did not know that I was talking about our deal to pass a bipartisan review act."
But Republican leadership is sticking to its timeline, insisting that a bill will hit the floor next week, likely on Tuesday. Rather than waiting for the committee to finish its work, McConnell has filed a placeholder and will substitute in Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker's bill if and when there is one. It's the same procedural workaround Republicans used to get the Keystone pipeline bill on the floor. "We're going to bring it up," Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn said Wednesday.
Yet Republicans on the committee—including Corker—say they're happy to concede to Democrats' demands on timing and wait until the end of March to consider the bill in the full Senate. Corker said Wednesday that his committee hadn't even scheduled a markup on the bill yet.
Committee members on both sides of the aisle say they've gone through a bipartisan process on the Iran bill and want to keep that era of good feeling going. But McConnell's move could, as Menendez said Wednesday, poison the well.
"I want to get a bipartisan vote to let the administration and Iranians know Congress will be involved in terms of lifting the sanctions. I don't want to create a problem for Democrats. If we have to wait until after the 24th—they've insisted on that—I'm willing to wait," GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham said Wednesday.
"I understand Mitch wanting to move forward, but this is not about partisan politics to me; this is about world order," Graham added.
Corker dismissed any concerns of divisions within the conference or the Senate more broadly on the issue, arguing that next week's vote was merely a procedural tactic, not a political one. McConnell knows that next week's cloture vote will fail, Corker said. But by bringing it up now, he'll save Congress two days of work when they eventually bring up the legislation again, likely after March 24, he explained.
But that rhetoric was markedly different from what leadership said on Wednesday. Rather than treating next week's vote as a procedural maneuver, the No. 2 Senate Republican took to the floor to hammer Menendez and his fellow Democrats for threatening to filibuster the bill over the timeline issue.
"In other words, [Menendez] opposes voting on his own bill because of the Senate procedures and the process. I don't know how you explain that back home. Good luck with explaining that to your constituents," Cornyn said.