Alaska News

Senate Iran bill passes without Murkowski and Sullivan's amendments

The U.S. Senate passed legislation Thursday to allow Senate approval of any eventual agreement to lift sanctions on Iran in exchange for nuclear disarmament.

The bill's rocky road to passage revealed just how difficult it will be for the newly in charge Republicans to pass legislation without a political brawl over amendments like the one that broke out within the Republican Party in the last week unless they block consideration of amendments altogether.

That could mean far fewer chances for senators to get their favored issues to a vote, as Alaska's two Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, attempted to do. Murkowski's amendment would have allowed the export of U.S. crude oil, and Sullivan wanted additional restrictions on lifting sanctions on Iran.

As passed, the Iran bill would give the Senate a role in approving any deal President Barack Obama reaches with Iran to lift economic sanctions on the country and stop it from developing nuclear weapons. The White House hopes to reach an agreement by June.

After a week of floor fights and tension, lawmakers agreed to put aside the 67 amendments offered by GOP senators -- there were none by Democrats -- to move the bill as negotiated by leaders on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tennessee Republican Bob Corker and Maryland Democrat Benjamin Cardin. Obama is likely to sign the bill after it moves through the House.

The final vote was 98-1. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, was the lone holdout, and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, did not vote.

Murkowski had offered one of those sidelined amendments; it would have ended the decades-old ban on exporting U.S. crude.

After the vote Thursday, Murkowski said she was neither surprised nor bothered to see her amendment to end the crude oil export ban set aside.

She and North Dakota Democrat Heidi Heitkamp are "pushing the issue. But at the end of the day, was it critical that it be part of this bill? No."

It "was far too important in my view that we were able to advance a bill that truly did give Congress a role when it comes to an Iran agreement. So I was not about to derail a process that Sen. Corker and Sen. Cardin have worked very hard on," she said.

Lifting the crude export ban is a priority for the state's senior senator, and she wanted to highlight the fact that lifting sanctions would mean Iran could once again export crude onto the world market, while for the most part, the U.S. cannot, she has said.

But "if we can't move this policy reform on this bill, there are going to be other opportunities," she said Thursday.

Murkowski had pinned some hopes on joining the issue to an upcoming trade bill. But given how things worked out for the Iran bill, that may be a nonstarter.

"I think it's a great talking opportunity at a minimum," Murkowski said, noting that the Senate may have to close the amendment process on the trade bill as well.

Sullivan spoke in defense of his amendment, which would have kept the U.S. from lifting sanctions on Iran until the country is proven to no longer be a state sponsor of terrorism.

"Despite a limited amendment process that prohibited votes on amendments which would have strengthened this legislation, I voted in support of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act," Sullivan said in a statement.

"I did so because the American people, through their representatives in Congress, deserve an opportunity to debate one of the most significant national security issues of our time," he said.

Erica Martinson

Erica Martinson is Alaska Dispatch News' Washington, DC reporter, and she covers the legislation, regulation and litigation that impact the Last Frontier.  Erica came to ADN after years as a reporter covering energy at POLITICO. Before that, she covered environmental policy at a DC trade publication and worked at several New York dailies.

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