Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 9, 2016

Reid Walks Back Commitment to Iran Sanctions Bill

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Suddenly Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., doesn’t sound as committed to a new Iran sanctions bill.

Reid last week said he “will support” a bill that would tighten the sanctions. “The Senate must be prepared to move forward with a new bipartisan Iran sanctions bill, when the Senate returns after Thanksgiving recess. And I am committed to do so,” he said.

But Reid said Monday morning that the Senate will act only “if we need to do stronger sanctions.”

Reid said his views haven’t changed. “What I said last week, I still feel the same way today,” he said, speaking to NPR from his home in Searchlight, Nev.

“I said when we come back, we’ll take a look at this to see if we need stronger sanctions, and that’s why I’m going to look at Tim Johnson, chairman of the Banking Committee — which has jurisdiction of this, and Bob Menendez, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and they will do what they’re supposed to do. They’ll study this. They will hold hearings if necessary, and if we need more work on this, if we need to do stronger sanctions, I’m sure we will do that.”

Before the weekend’s announcement of an interim agreement, Reid seemed to go further, outlining elements of a new sanctions package that he would support taking up after the Thanksgiving recess.

Menendez and No. 3 Democrat Charles E. Schumer of New York sounded more definitive than Reid in a statement Sunday, saying that he expected the Senate to take up additional sanctions, meaning it is quite likely that a bill will be produced, perhaps in short order.

“We all have to acknowledge that it’s an important first step,” Reid said Monday of the interim deal announced late Saturday by President Barack Obama.

The administration has vigorously opposed new sanctions for now, with Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry warning Congress that they would risk derailing the deal and splitting the international coalition that has made this round of sanctions stick.

Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin of Michigan last week said Reid’s statement was intended to “avoid this issue interfering with the negotiations” because otherwise senators would have insisted on voting on Iran amendments as part of the defense authorization bill.

But the issue of voting on amendments became moot when the Senate failed to reach a deal on amendments and adjourned for the Thanksgiving recess.

Meredith Shiner contributed to this report.

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