Perhaps you’ve read a few–even a few dozen–stories describing the negotiated compromise legislation that passed unanimously out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday, which the President will sign. Odds are, however, that virtually none of those stories, online or in print, contains the language of the agreement, or even a link to it so that you might assess it for yourself. (Why does this media failure to link to the relevant documents–even to legislation!–remain the default rule?) [UPDATE: Not surprisingly, Jack Goldsmith is the exception to the rule. A bit more on Jack’s post below.]
Well, here is the amended Act, which would add a new Section 135 to the Atomic Energy Act of 1954.
As I read it, Section 135 would do two principal things. First, subsection (d) would establish an extensive system of congressional reporting and oversight provisions related to the implementation of any agreement the P5+1 concludes with Iran.
Second, subsection (b) would establish a period during which the President could not exercise his existing statutory authorities to “waive, suspend, reduce, provide relief from, or otherwise limit the application of, any statutory sanctions with respect to Iran under any provision of law,” and during which he could not refrain from applying any such sanctions pursuant to an P5+1/Iran agreement. With respect to new waivers, suspensions, etc., that period–what we might call the “nonwaiver” period–would begin 45 days before the President submits the Iran agreement to the congressional oversight committees, something that subsection (a) would require him to do within five days after reaching such agreement. So, for example, if the P5+1 and Iran were to reach an agreement on June 30, then by July 5 the President would have to submit the agreement, together with certain certifications and verifications made by the Secretary of State (prescribed in subsection (a)), to the committees. And in that case (that is, submission on July 5), he could not exercise his statutory authorities to effect any new waivers, suspensions, etc., after May 21. (Assuming the agreement is not finalized until June 30, the nonwaiver period might begin as early as May 16, depending on when the President submits the agreement to Congress.)
When would the nonwaiver period end? If both houses of Congress were to pass a resolution approving the deal, the nonwaiver period would end upon such a vote. But assuming Congress does not do so, the nonwaiver period would extend for at least 30 days beyond the submission of the agreement to Congress. So, in my hypo above, if the President were to submit the agreement to the committees on July 5, he would not be able to impose any new waivers, suspensions, etc., until at least August 4. (Of course, the President could submit the agreement earlier, e.g., on July 1, in which case the clock would shift accordingly.) And if, during that period, both houses of Congress pass a “joint resolution of disapproval” of the agreement, then the nonwaiver period would extend for at least twelve days beyond that, or until the President vetoes the joint resolution, even if that period extends beyond the first 30 days post-submission. And if (as expected) the President does veto the resolution, his nonwaiver period would continue for another ten days beyond that, to give Congress an opportunity to override the veto.
I will assume here that if Congress does pass a joint resolution of disapproval, it will present it to the President two days later, in order to prevent him from imposing new waivers, etc., in the period between presentment and veto. (The President has ten days after presentment in which to veto or sign a bill.) So, in my hypo, if the President submitted the agreement on July 5, and there were sufficient votes in both houses to pass a joint resolution of disapproval (which of course might well not be the case), then presumably such a resolution would be passed on August 4, and presented to the President on August 6. I’ll further assume he would veto it right away, e.g., in my hypo, on August 6, and then he could not effect any new waivers, suspensions, etc., until August 16. (And if the President submitted the agreement earlier, say, on July 1, then this entire calendar would shift accordingly, and the nonwaiver period would end on about August 12 at the latest, with one caveat: In the unlikely event Congress were to override the President’s veto of a joint resolution disapproving the agreement, then the joint resolution itself would prescribe the scope of the President’s waiver/suspension authority going forward.)
I concede that I might have some of this wrong–it’s simply my quick, preliminary take on the legislation. I invite readers to weigh in with corrections/additions. [UPDATE: Jack Goldsmith has further thoughts on the operation and practical effects of the legislation. I don’t know enough to opine on whether the bill is “sensible,” but otherwise, I agree with Jack’s assessment. Passage of this bill will presumably mean that Secretary Kerry cannot promise the U.S. will lift any sanctions until mid-August; but I doubt that will be a serious obstacle in negotiations. And, contrary to the New York Times editorial, I agree with Jack that I don’t believe the legislation will require Congress to vote on the agreement at all.]