Bucking Bernie Sanders, Democrats Move Forward On Iran Sanctions After Terror Attack in Tehran

Democrats think they can turn a debate about Iran sanctions into one on Russian sanctions.

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 25: Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) arrives for a press conference to discuss legislation for a 15 dollar minimum wage, on Capitol Hill, May 25, 2017 in Washington, DC. 31 Democrats have pledged to support the legislation so far. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Sen. Bernie Sanders arrives for a press conference on Capitol Hill, in Washington, on May 25, 2017. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

In the wake of an alleged ISIS terrorist attack on the Iranian parliament, the U.S. Senate is marking the tragedy with twin resolutions: one to express condolences, the second to move forward on a bill to hit the country with new sanctions.

By a vote of 92-7, the Senate opened debate on the sanctions resolution Wednesday. But the resolution expressing condolences is still being worked on, one senator said.

“On a day when Iran has been attacked by ISIS, by terrorism, now is not the time to go forward with legislation calling for sanctions against Iran,” Vermont’s Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders said on the floor before the Senate did just that. “Let us be aware and cognizant that earlier today the people of Iran suffered a horrific terror attack in their capital, Tehran.”

The vote also came in the face of warnings from former Secretary of State John Kerry that a new sanctions bill could imperil the nuclear deal.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said that it was still time to move forward. After all, it could be a chance to hit Russia. “I think we have an opportunity on the Iran sanctions bill to amend it to include strong Russia sanctions; I’m determined that we get that done. That’s foremost in my mind,” said Coons.

“I appreciate the fact that when the United States was attacked on 9/11, Iran expressed concern and solidarity with us. I do think it’s important for us to express our condolences to the Iranian people for their being victims of an ISIS and I believe that resolution will be adopted today. It seems a bit of a mixed message to me to try and combine those two.”

A number of Sanders’s Democratic caucus colleagues, including California’s Diane Feinstein and Delaware’s Tom Carper, joined him in arguing that the bill should be delayed in light of the terrorist attack. On her way into the vote, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., told The Intercept she agreed with Sanders that it should be delayed, but didn’t think it would be. She was correct, and cast her vote in favor.

South Dakota Sen. John Thune, a member of Republican leadership, disagreed. “I hope not,” he said of the possibility of a delay, his further thoughts being cut off by the closing of the door of an elevator taking him to vote on the measure.

Shortly before the vote to end debate on the bill, New York’s Sen. Chuck Schumer — who leads the Senate Democrats — came out and argued forcefully in favor of the sanctions, showing no concern about imperiling the nuclear deal or the terrorist attack.

“Democrats will vote to advance this bill to the floor because we support — most of us support the bill,” he assured the Senate.

Sixty votes are needed to achieve cloture and close debate; only seven senators opposed the cloture vote: Democrats Kirsten Gillibrand, Dick Durbin, Carper, Jeff Merkley, and Tom Udall as well as Republican Rand Paul and Sanders.

President Donald Trump added insult to injury when the White House released its own statement on the Iranian terror attack on Wednesday. “We grieve and pray for the innocent victims of the terrorist attacks in Iran, and for the Iranian people, who are going through such challenging times,” it read.

However, it then pivoted to blaming the victims. “We underscore that states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote,” it concluded.

A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., referred questions on the condolences resolution to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. A spokesperson there didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.

Top photo: Sen. Bernie Sanders arrives for a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 25, 2017.

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