Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) warned Wednesday that while he thinks it’s likely the Senate will extend Iran sanctions by the end of the year, the issue could easily dissolve into a partisan fight.
“I think it is likely that we can pass the Iran Sanctions Act [extension] in the lame duck,” he said. “However, there is a risk factor. There’s a risk factor that the leadership may not want it to go by itself, and they might very well put it with other provisions that may be unacceptable.”
Lawmakers in both parties want to extend the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA), which is set to expire at the end of the year, but proposals have widely varied. Top Democrats, including Cardin, have backed a “clean,” standalone extension. A bill introduced this week that linked the sanctions to bolstering funding for Israel’s military is the most recent proposal from Republicans.
“There’s a lot of interest in Congress to deal with Iran, and if that holds up that debate and we’re in lame-duck session then it’s possible everything could fall,” said the Maryland Democrat, who is the ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee.
Senators initially hoped to tackle an ISA extension at the beginning of 2016, but negotiations to find a compromise proposal have stalemated amid lingering backlash over the Iran nuclear deal and a string of Iranian ballistic missile tests.
With the Senate expected to leave Washington next week until after the election, any ISA extension is getting kicked to the end-of-the-year session. They’ll also likely need 67 votes to pass a bill with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warning that any Iran proposal would have to be able to overcome a potential veto before he would give it floor time.
Republicans have homed in on the nuclear agreement as they try to make national security a key issue in the 2016 election. Republicans are defending 24 Senate seats, including a handful in states previously carried by President Obama.
A Gallup poll released earlier this year found that 30 percent of Americans — but only 9 percent of Republicans — approved of the nuclear deal, under which Iran curbed its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
Cardin, however, said he didn’t expect the nuclear agreement to be a “bellwether issue” in the election.
“If they don’t use this they’ll use something else, and if they can’t find anything they’ll make it up,” he said. “Will it affect some campaigns or will they try to make it into an issue? Maybe, but I just don’t see it as an issue because it’s a close call.”