If Congress votes against a final Iran nuke deal, could it override Obama veto?

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y., pictured in center) supports a bill that would mandate Congressional review of a final nuclear deal with Iran. President Barack Obama (far right), after previously vowing to veto the bill, is reportedly likely to approve a modified version. Credit: Pete Souza/White House.

Despite reports suggesting that a recent bipartisan compromise on Congressional oversight of a nuclear deal with Iran removed some drama from the process, the fate of a final pact with the Islamic Republic on American soil could still rest in the hands of a small group of federal lawmakers.

On April 14, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously passed a modified version of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, meaning the bill will proceed to a full Senate vote.

If passed in the Senate, and then in the House, the bill would require the Obama administration to submit the final nuclear deal—for which world powers (including the U.S.) and Iran have a June 30 deadline—to Congress for review. Sponsored by Foreign Relations Committee Chairman U.S. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the review bill was co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of 20 senators. 

Shortly before the Foreign Relations Committee vote, Congressional Democrats and Republicans agreed to amend the bill to reduce the 60-day period for Congress to review the nuclear deal to 30 days. The review period also includes a maximum period of 12 days for the president to decide whether to accept or veto a Congressional decision on the deal.

According to reports, President Barack Obama is unlikely to veto the bill if it passes in its current form. But the ability of Congress to review a final deal with Iran does not necessarily mean that the deal will be derailed.

If a majority of members of Congress votes against a final agreement with Iran, Obama can veto that vote. If the president is able to hold on to the support of just 34 senators or 146 House of Representatives members, Congress would not be able to override his veto.

Under this scenario, those Democrats who were on the fence about the Congressional review bill prior the Foreign Relations Committee vote may be the ones who would ultimately decide the final fate of the Iran deal.

Among the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) had not indicated a specific position on the review bill or on the recently reached framework deal with Iran. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said, “Keep in mind that the War Powers Resolution was passed over the veto of [former] president [Richard] Nixon. There comes a moment when the Congress asserts itself." When asked whether Democrats could help override Obama's veto of a Congressional resolution against a final Iran deal, Durbin said, “I wouldn’t rule it out." 

Despite some on-the-fence Democrats, some analysts say that members of that party are not likely to want to antagonize the president by overriding his veto.

"My guess is that the [Obama] administration will have a strong chance of putting together a block of at least 34 senators," said Robert Einhorn, a former U.S. negotiator with Iran who is now with the Brookings Institution think tank, according to Reuters.

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who struck the bipartisan deal with Corker to modify the Congressional review bill, illustrated that point when he recently said, “Congress does have a right to review the agreement... I want it to strengthen the president, not weaken the president, I don’t want it to undermine negotiations.”

Posted on April 22, 2015 .