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Congressional Lawmakers Insist Iran Nuclear Deal Be Put To A Vote

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Having negotiated a nuclear deal with Iran, the White House faces two more big steps. One is taking this outline of a deal and making it final. Another is making sure that Congress does not get in the way. Most Republicans and some Democrats are skeptical about an agreement. President Obama, yesterday, dared Congress to block it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If Congress kills this deal, not based on expert analysis and without offering any reasonable alternative, then it's the United States that will be blamed for the failure of diplomacy.

MONTAGNE: NPR national security correspondent David Welna joins us now to talk about what Congress might do next. Good morning.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So does this deal with Iran have to be subject to congressional review, as many lawmakers are demanding?

WELNA: Well, technically speaking, it does not. If this were a treaty, it would need the approval of two-thirds of the Senate to be ratified. But it's not a treaty. It's what's known as an executive agreement, a deal worked out entirely by the Obama administration and other nations with Iran. And a very key point about it is that it is not legally binding. So Congress does not need to give its approval. But that hasn't stopped a lot of lawmakers from saying it should be put to a vote.

MONTAGNE: Well, I mean, does that mean there's a chance it will be put to some kind of a vote?

WELNA: It's quite likely. The question is, what would happen if Congress does not approve the deal? Congress doesn't have the legal authority to reject the deal. But it does have some leverage, and that's because Congress has power over the sanctions it's imposed on Iran. Right now, the president is able to waive most of those sanctions because they were written to give him the authority to do that. But Congress could take away that power to waive the sanctions.

MONTAGNE: And that does seem like it could undo the deal, which involves sanctions obviously.

WELNA: It could indeed because, you know, Iran's main motivation for agreeing to a deal is getting sanctions relief. So if the president can't waive them, there would be little reason for Iran to keep its end of the deal. Another thing that could derail this is some Republicans in Congress are pushing to add more sanctions. But they'd need a lot of Democrats on board, too, to muster the two-thirds majorities in both chambers that they'd need to override a now most certain presidential veto of more sanctions. And Democrats so far have resisted adding more sanctions while negotiations continue.

MONTAGNE: What kind of support can the president expect from this Congress for this deal, which he, of course, insists - the president - that is a good deal?

WELNA: Well, certainly not a lot of support from Republicans. Michael McCaul, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, put out a statement warning that moving ahead on this deal would have dire consequences for the U.S. and its allies in the region. John McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, did not dismiss the deal. But he did say Iran was on the offensive in the Middle East, and this deal could have an impact on growing tensions and conflicts there.

MONTAGNE: Congress is out now. When it comes back the week after next, what is likely to happen?

WELNA: They are going to go after the sanctions issue. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee plans to take up a bill blocking the president from lifting any sanctions for 60 days. The idea is for Congress to use that time to debate the agreement and to vote on it. And this may be complicated a bit by the top Democrat on the committee, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, who's a main sponsor of that bill, giving up his leadership role this week after getting indicted on corruption charges. Just when Congress might vote on this deal is also a bit unclear. The Foreign Relations Committee's Republican chairman, Bob Corker, has indicated the vote by Congress will come only after a final nuclear agreement is reached. And the deadline for that is June 30.

MONTAGNE: NPR national security correspondent David Welna, thanks very much.

WELNA: You're welcome, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.