President Obama's attempt to outmaneuver Congress and win quick United Nations approval for the Iran nuclear agreement is backfiring on him in Congress, and could further erode support among key players.
Key senators were already outraged that the administration was taking the lead in negotiating a deal and sidelining Congress' traditional role of being directly involved in haggling the finer points of arms control agreements. They were resigned to let the administration handle the negotiations in return for the promise that they would have ample opportunity to review the deal and vote on it.
But Kerry this week moved to exert the maximum global leverage on Congress by circulating a legally binding draft of the deal to the United Nations Security Council. A vote at the U.N. is expected early next week to end the international body's sanctions against Iran in return for Tehran curbing its nuclear program.
He made the move before Congress had received the full documents related to the deal and before the Senate's 60-day review period began. And he even seemed to dare Congress to try to reject the deal, which he said would make the U.S. the non-compliant country.
"If Congress were to veto the deal, Congress — the United States of America — would be in noncompliance with this agreement and contract to all of the other countries of the world," Kerry said earlier this week.
The comments were in stark contrast to Kerry's assurances earlier this year to senators that the administration is not trying to marginalize Congress.
The 180-degree turnabout outraged Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as its ranking member, Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., who appeared to be leaning in favor of backing the agreement before Obama's strategy became apparent.
The two emerged from a meeting with Vice President Joe Biden Thursday, and proceeded to call out the administration's efforts to sideline Congress. Corker called the move an "affront to the American people" and Congress, and said he talked to U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power earlier in the day and told her the step isn't "prudent."
Cardin echoed that, and warned the administration not to move forward with a U.N. vote on the deal until lawmakers have a chance to review it.
"Acting on it at this stage is a confusing message to an independent review by Congress over these next 60 days," he said. "If the United States is signing onto the United Nations program and later on we're not part of it, what we'll do is inconsistent with the U.N. resolution, so it would be better not to have action on the U.N. resolution."
Still, he noted that any U.N. action next week or during Congress' 60 day-review period wouldn't result in the sanctions being lifted before Congress votes on the resolution. He noted that the U.N. resolution won't take effect for 90 days, pushing any international sanctions relief until October.
The two followed up with a letter to Obama Thursday arguing that any move to get United Nations approval before Congress has a chance to review the deal would break the president's promise to give Congress and the American people a chance to fully review the deal.
"We are deeply concerned that your administration plans to enable the United Nations Security Council to vote on the agreement before the United States Congress can do the same," they wrote.
Cardin's support for the letter is a key sign that Obama might lose some of the Democratic support he'll need to get the deal through the Senate. Republicans are known to oppose the deal, and they also piled on by opposing Obama's maneuver.
The White House tried to do some damage control Thursday afternoon, saying there's nothing in the U.N. Security Council resolution that requires the U.S. to implement the agreement.
"We will not begin implementation of the plan until after the congressional review period is over," deputy press secretary Eric Schultz told reporters traveling on Air Force One.
"… We should be clear about the sequencing here," he said. "We are sending the draft version of the deal to the Security Council immediately for its review and we hope for a quick endorsement."
"We should make clear that the Security Council does not lessen the importance of Congress or its review" of the deal, he said.
But the comments did nothing to stop the outrage among Republicans.
Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., a vocal opponent of the deal, accused the White House of trying to preempt Congress's 60-day review of the Iran deal, and called the move "a breathtaking assault on American sovereignty and congressional prerogative."
"I am shocked that Secretary of State Kerry actually admitted, on the record, that he wants to create a situation where congressional disapproval of the Iran deal would make the United States in violation of the international community," Kirk said.
Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican presidential contender, called the move "absolutely unacceptable," "undemocratic," and said it demonstrates a lack of confidence in the administration's own agreement.
"The president is relying on adversaries like Russia and China to stifle the views of the American people's elected representatives. It's a clear sign that he knows if this deal is reviewed closely by the American people, it will be rejected," Rubio said.
He then pledged to do "everything in my power" to ensure that we reject this deal despite Obama's attempt to silence Congress. "We cannot allow America's security to be outsourced to the United Nations," he concluded.