A high-stakes legal fight between Republicans and the White House over the Iran nuclear deal became more likely Thursday, as Speaker John Boehner said that it is “very possible” he will sue President Obama to keep the agreement from being implemented.
Boehner said he believes the administration will be breaking the law if it begins lifting sanctions on Tehran in one week. At issue is whether the White House turned over to Congress all documents related to the deal, a prerequisite for starting the clock on the 60-day congressional review period, according to the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act.
“It makes clear that any side agreements, any other type of an agreement, including those that do not directly involve us, must be turned over. And so I do not believe he has complied,” Boehner said.
The missing agreements are those between the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran. The administration has said it does not have the documents and the IAEA said it is its policy not to release them.
Nevertheless, House Republicans said that the law does not allow Obama to implement the deal absent those agreements being made public.
When asked whether he would go as far as to sue the administration, Boehner said, “That is an option that is very possible.”
An architect of the House’s plan, Rep. Mike Pompeo, who sits on the Intelligence Committee, said he was briefed on the documents by an administration official who had also not seen them, but who had been briefed on their contents by the IAEA.
One document, he said, deals with the verification regime to make sure Iran is compliant with the deal and another has to do with the history of Iran’s weaponization program.
Pompeo said he hopes it does not come to a lawsuit, but he said the administration should exert pressure on the IAEA to turn over the documents and at the very least give Congressmen a classified briefing on the actual documents, not just their understanding of their contents.
“I’m hopeful the president will recognize that he didn’t comply with his obligations and will at least make a good faith effort to comply,” he said. “They have enormous leverage. … It’s not physically impossible. The documents exist in the world. They should simply demand access to the documents.”
The new House strategy on Iran was hatched Wednesday during a series of contentious meetings. Boehner had originally planned to go ahead with the bicameral plan of voting on a resolution of disapproval of the deal.
But Obama had pledged to veto the measure, and Democrats promised not to allow Republican leaders a two-thirds majority to override the veto. So several House Republicans rebelled against Boehner’s plan, causing him to change strategy.
Included in the new plan is a nonbinding measure expressing a sense of the House that Obama has not complied with the law, which the House passed on a party-line vote Thursday, and is perceived to be the first step in setting up a lawsuit against the administration.
The new plan has wide buy-in from the Republican rank-and-file. Rep. Raul Labrador, who was among the members rebelling on Wednesday, said he is on board with the new plan because instead of passing a resolution of disapproval, the House will likely vote down a resolution of approval. That, he said, turns the previous plan on its head, showing that the House is not complying with the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act.
“We don’t need to do a resolution of disapproval because the clock hasn’t started,” Labrador said. He added that, “Maybe there is a reason they don’t want us to see those documents and maybe there is something in those documents that will change some minds.”
The House will vote on that measure Friday, along with another stating that the administration cannot lift sanctions.
But Republican Senate leaders have said they will continue with the previous plan of voting on a resolution of disapproval and have been dismissive of House conservatives’ complaints, making it unclear how far the House can unilaterally take this.
The vote comes a day after Boehner secured a legal victory against Obama in another case involving the president’s health care law. The House was found to have standing to sue the administration over the way low-income subsidies were financed.
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Daniel Newhauser is a staff correspondent for National Journal, where he primarily covers the House of Representatives. He was formerly a House leadership reporter for Roll Call, where he started as an intern in 2010 and quickly earned a slot as a beat reporter.
A native of San Antonio, Texas, Newhauser traveled further West to study journalism at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and write for newspapers including the East Valley Tribune and the Green Valley News & Sun.