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By Paul Richter and Lisa Mascaro, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — In a rare bipartisan accord, the Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill Thursday that would give Congress power to review any nuclear deal with Iran, ending months of tense negotiations with the White House.

The measure, which passed 98-1, is likely to pass the House as early as next week and thus provide an outlet for lawmakers determined to have a say in an emerging deal between six international powers and Tehran.

The nearly unanimous Senate vote came after the White House had threatened to veto proposals that would give Congress a more assertive role or that would add fresh demands to the nuclear negotiations.

Despite fierce criticism from Republican lawmakers in recent days, only Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK), cast a negative vote. Cotton, a freshman senator, had challenged party leaders by introducing amendments that he said would toughen the bill, but that critics said would doom its chances of approval.

Passage came minutes after the Senate had voted 96-3 to cut off further debate on dozens of amendments that Republicans had offered.

The bipartisan bill, sponsored by Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), and Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), would give Congress “the right to vote for or against any change in the status quo, when it comes to Iran,” said Senator John Cornyn (R-TeX), moments after the vote.

The White House also portrayed the bill as a victory.

Bernadette Meehan, spokeswoman for the National Security Council, called it “the kind of reasonable and acceptable compromise that the president would be willing to sign.”

She urged the House to “similarly protect this compromise bill, which constitutes a straightforward, fair process for Congress to be able to evaluate a final comprehensive deal.”

Iran is negotiating with the United States and five other world powers in an effort to meet a June 30 deadline to produce a comprehensive agreement that would ease economic sanctions on Tehran if it accepts restrictions aimed at preventing it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

The bill that passed the Senate would give Congress at least 30 days to deliberate over any deal, and sets up a procedure for lawmakers to vote to register their support or disapproval of the agreement.

During that period, the Obama administration will be barred from suspending any congressionally imposed sanctions on Iran.

It is unclear whether critics of a deal with Iran could rally enough congressional support to block an agreement that the White House has negotiated. Opponents would need 67 senators to override an expected presidential veto.

Some senior Republican lawmakers and U.S. allies say congressional critics are unlikely to be able to stop a deal.

The measure won backing from many Democratic lawmakers who wanted Congress to have a say on the issue, and decided the measure didn’t represent a serious threat to the diplomacy as it moves into the end game.

Some Democrats said the measure doesn’t give members of Congress any leverage over the Iran deal that they didn’t already have.

President Barack Obama, who initially opposed the bill as an infringement of his authority to conduct foreign affairs, shifted ground last month and said he could accept a modified version that passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by a 19-0 margin.

Conservative critics sought last week to add amendments that threatened to derail that bill.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), a presidential candidate, sought to require Iran to recognize Israel’s right to exist, for example, an issue that was never part of the negotiations.

Conservative support for the bill, which was strong when the bill passed in committee, faded when critics began to fear it would not allow Congress to derail any agreement with Iran.

Yet almost all senators ultimately voted for the measure because of their desire to give Congress a say.

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-OH), said after the Senate vote that he looked forward to the bill’s passage in the House “to hold President Obama’s administration accountable.”

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Sen. David Perdue

Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) pulled out of his final debate against Democrat Jon Ossoff on Thursday —because he'd rather attend a Donald Trump campaign rally.

The Nov. 1 Senate debate was planned months ago, but Perdue's campaign said he could not participate as promised because he has been too busy doing his job.

"Senator Perdue will not be participating in the WSB-TV debate but will instead join the 45th president, Donald J. Trump, for a huge Get-Out-The-Vote rally in Northwest Georgia. For 8 of the last 14 days of this campaign, Senator Perdue went back to Washington to work for much needed COVID relief," his spokesperson John Burke said in a statement, referencing a failed attempt by Senate Republicans to pass Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) "skinny" $500 billion proposal.

"To make up for the lost time, Senator Perdue has over 20 campaign stops planned for the closing days of this race, and he is excited to welcome and join President Trump in Georgia before November 3rd to campaign for both of their re-election efforts," Burke added.

WSB-TV noted on Thursday that it offered Perdue's campaign other time slots to accommodate the Trump rally, but the overture was rebuffed.

Ossoff's campaign blasted Perdue's "cowardly withdrawal," saying in a statement that the move "says it all: David Perdue feels entitled to his office, and he'll do anything to avoid accountability for his blatant corruption and his total failure during this unprecedented health crisis."

The incumbent's decision to break his promise to debate came one day after a video of Jon Ossoff criticizing Perdue's anti-Obamacare record at a Wednesday debate went viral. As of Friday morning, a 72-second clip of Ossoff has been viewed more than 12 million times.

Perdue responded to that attack by making the odd claim that he repeatedly voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act — which would take insurance away from hundreds of thousands of his constituents — because he believed doing so would cover more people.

"I voted against the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, because it was taking insurance away from millions of Georgians. Today almost 18 percent of Georgians don't have any health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act," he falsely claimed.

This is not the first time Perdue has put Trump ahead of the interests of Georgians. According to FiveThirtyEight, he has voted with Trump about 95 percent of the time, including backing his right-wing Supreme Court nominees, his tax cuts for large corporations and the very wealthy, and his repeated attempts to take money from military families to pay for a massive Southern border wall.

Medical experts and data analyses have suggested Trump's rallies have been super-spreader events for the coronavirus. Trump has refused to adhere to social distancing rules or to require mask usage at the events and the mass gatherings have frequently been immediately followed by case spikes in the communities where he holds them.

One poll this week found that voters across the country said they are less likely to vote for Trump because of his "large, in-person campaign rallies where wearing a mask is not required of attendees."

The race between Ossoff and Perdue is considered a "toss-up" by election experts, and polls show it as virtual tied.

If no candidate gets a majority on Tuesday, the top two finishers will face off in a January runoff.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.