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Dunsmore: Constitutional Authority

It’s expected the compromise bill will be submitted to the full Senate some time this month. It gives Congress a vote on the final terms of the nuclear agreement that Iran and six world powers including the United States are seeking to reach by the end of June. It needs to be emphasized that there are many issues to be resolved in the next round of talks with Iran that are to begin next week.

President Barack Obama backed off from a threat to veto an earlier version of the Senate bill. And he gave up his right to temporarily wave Iranian sanctions put in place by Congress. But, at least for now, he appears to have deflected Senate action that might have scuttled the final nuclear agreement with Iran, even before it was reached.

The president was facing not just a hostile Republican controlled Senate that seems bent on voting down anything he proposes. But there were a growing number of Democrats including New York Senator Charles Schumer, prepared to vote against him on this issue. The New York Times recently described Schumer as “long personally hawkish on matters related to Israel, caught between the Jewish voters and donors in his state and beyond, who are pressuring him in conflicting directions.“

Other Democrats argued their Congressional prerogative - that because this is such a polarizing issue, Congress needs to weigh in. And there have been recent polls showing a majority of Americans favors a Congressional vote on any nuclear deal with Iran.

This idea that President Obama does not have the constitutional authority to enter into such international agreements, is a creation of the president’s opponents and is wrong - both constitutionally and historically. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank came up with this piece of information yesterday. The Congressional Research Service found that more than 18,000 international agreements had been reached since 1789 - more than 17 thousand of those since 1939 - and that only 1,100 treaties have been ratified by Congress.

Because it is a multi-party international accord, any nuclear agreement with Iran would not be defined as a treaty requiring a two thirds vote in the Senate for approval.

Actually, under the proposed new Senate bill, if and when an Iran deal is concluded, even if two thirds of the Senate voted against it, the president would need only 34 senators to sustain a veto over that vote. That means he could lose all the Republicans and about a dozen Democratic senators and still effectively win.

Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.
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