September 16, 2022 | Flash Brief

Will Congress Hold a Vote on Iran Deal Before Sanctions Relief?

September 16, 2022 | Flash Brief

Will Congress Hold a Vote on Iran Deal Before Sanctions Relief?

The Biden administration is signaling it will continue to pursue a nuclear agreement with Iran. This endeavor faces bipartisan opposition while questions swirl over whether and how the president will comply with a federal law mandating the submission of any deal to Congress. The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA), which lawmakers passed near-unanimously in 2015, requires the president to seek congressional review of any agreement related to Tehran’s nuclear program before suspending sanctions on Iran.

Expert Analysis

“The Biden administration fears a vote under INARA because they see the depth of bipartisan opposition to this fatally-flawed Iran deal, which gives the regime in Tehran patient pathways to nuclear weapons and ICBMs as well as one trillion dollars in sanctions relief to fund greater aggression and repression.”
Mark Dubowitz, FDD Chief Executive

“The Biden administration is already moving toward a deal that would illegitimately suspend terrorism-related sanctions on Iran prior to congressional review and without any halt to Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism. If Congress does not hold a recorded vote on a joint resolution of disapproval, the likelihood of a future Congress or president ripping up the deal will dramatically rise.”
Richard Goldberg, FDD Senior Advisor

The INARA Review Process

Under INARA, once the president submits a deal to Congress, lawmakers have 30 days to hold hearings and potentially vote on a resolution of disapproval. Passage of that resolution requires a simple majority in the House and is subject to the 60-vote cloture threshold in the Senate. During that process, “the President may not waive, suspend, reduce, provide relief from, or otherwise limit the application of statutory sanctions with respect to Iran under any provision of law or refrain from applying any such sanctions pursuant to” the nuclear agreement.

If a joint resolution is sent to the president, restrictions remain in place for an additional 12 days. If the president vetoes it, restrictions remain in place for an additional 10 days to allow for an attempt to override the veto.

Congress Could Evade an INARA Vote

INARA does not require House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer to schedule votes on a joint resolution of disapproval. Thus, the speaker and majority leader could block a vote from taking place, allowing the White House to claim that it obeyed the provisions of INARA simply by submitting the agreement to Congress.

The Biden administration could defend this approach by asserting that, from a legal perspective, the agreement is not new and therefore another vote is unnecessary. Pelosi may instruct the House parliamentarian to reach the same conclusion as a justification for not holding a vote. However, the deal under negotiation in Vienna is in fact substantially different — both shorter and weaker — from the JCPOA.

Biden May Lift Terrorism Sanctions Before INARA Vote

Alternatively, the Biden administration could evade INARA by offering terrorism sanctions relief to Iran prior to submitting the deal to Congress by claiming the relief is not tied to a nuclear agreement. In this scenario, the administration might issue a statutory waiver to allow for the release of $7 billion from terror-sanctioned Iranian bank accounts ostensibly in exchange for the release of American hostages. Even though the administration may negotiate this arrangement as part of the Vienna nuclear deal process, it could claim otherwise.

Growing Bipartisan Opposition to the New Deal

On September 1, a bipartisan group of 50 House members — 34 Democrats and 16 Republicans — sent a letter to President Biden expressing concern about the emerging agreement, particularly its $1 trillion in sanctions relief. In April 2022, 18 House Democrats held a press conference to express concern about the deal. These concerns suggest that a new deal would receive less Democratic support than the JCPOA did in 2015. To date, Speaker Pelosi has not committed to holding a vote on a resolution of disapproval on any new agreement.

Related Analysis

Biden May Be Plotting to Keep Congress Out of the Iran Nuclear Deal,” By Matthew Zweig and Gabriel Noronha

Iran Deal May Provide Billions in IRGC-Connected Sanctions Relief Prior To Congressional Review,” FDD Flash Brief



Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Sanctions Nonproliferation Sanctions and Illicit Finance