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Trump Misleads on Corker

President Donald Trump misleadingly claimed Sen. Bob Corker “gave us the Iran Deal.” Corker, who opposed the nuclear deal with Iran negotiated by the Obama administration, helped craft a bipartisan bill that allowed the House and Senate to review the agreement.

The review act passed the Senate 98-1.

Senate Republicans did ultimately review the Iran deal, and introduced legislation to kill it. But they were not able to garner enough votes to overcome a Democratic-led filibuster, and the deal moved forward.

Trump’s revisionist history is the latest in a war of words with Corker, a Republican who has announced that he will not run for reelection after 2018. In a swipe at the president, Corker told reporters last week that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly “are those people that help separate our country from chaos.”

Trump fired back with a series of tweets criticizing the Tennessee senator. Trump said Corker “begged” Trump to endorse him for reelection, but that when he told Corker “NO,” Corker “dropped out (said he could not win without my endorsement).”

Trump also alleged Corker was “largely responsible for the horrendous Iran Deal.”

Later on Oct. 8, Trump again tweeted about Corker and alleged Corker “gave us the Iran Deal.”

Corker disputes Trump’s account of him deciding not to run because Trump refused to endorse him — indeed, Corker says Trump urged him to run and offered to endorse him. We can’t referee these he-said/he-said accounts, but the record on the Iran nuclear deal is well-documented.

Corker had nothing to do with the creation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal. It was negotiated by officials from the U.S., China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom, and representatives of the European Union and Iran.

So why does Trump say Corker is responsible for the deal?

Some conservatives — such as those writing for Breitbart.com and the Washington Times — have blamed Corker for helping to craft a bipartisan bill, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. Critics of the bill say it paved the way to deny Congress an up-or-down vote on ratification of the deal.

When the Iran deal was still being negotiated in early 2015, Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, expressed concerns that the Obama administration would move forward with the deal without any congressional review. Indeed, the Obama administration had contended that the deal was not a “treaty” — which would be subject to Senate approval.

Corker negotiated a bill with Democrats that would allow Congress 30 days to review a nuclear deal, and potentially — if it had enough veto-proof votes — to kill it.

On May 7, 2015, the review bill passed the Senate 98-1. Republican Sen. Tom Cotton cast the lone dissenting vote. A week later, the bill passed the House 400-25, and it was signed by Obama on May 22, 2015.

The Iran nuclear deal was announced in July, and it did get a public airing in Congress after Republicans proposed a resolution to reject the deal. But it never did get a straight up-or-down vote in the Senate. Rather, a procedural measure on Sept. 10, 2015, failed by two votes (58-42) to reach the 60 needed to break a Democratic filibuster.

At the time, Corker criticized Senate Democrats for trying to “deny the American people an up-or-down vote on a resolution disapproving of the Iran nuclear deal.” Corker called the deal “deeply flawed,” and he warned, “Rather than end Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon, this deal legitimizes and industrializes their nuclear program over time.”

A few days later, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made a final push to quash the deal. He tried again for a procedural vote to move for a vote to kill the deal, but it again fell short, this time 56-42. And finally, on Sept. 17, 2015, McConnell scheduled a procedural vote on an amendment to block sanctions relief for Iran unless it recognized Israel’s right to exist and released American prisoners being held in the country. That vote fell short 53-45. In every case, Corker voted along with McConnell and other Republicans to kill or strengthen the Iran deal.

As we said, some have argued that Corker’s Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act put Congress in the position of having to get 60 votes in the Senate to kill it, rather than making supporters get 60 votes to pass it.
But Corker said that’s rewriting history.
Defending his bill back in September 2015, Corker said: “This legislation actually took power back from the president, and without it, he could have unilaterally implemented the deal immediately. The president never would have been forced to submit the agreement to Congress and there would have been no review and no debate on this critical national security issue.”
Corker, Sept. 5, 2015: The simple truth is this: Under our form of government, the president is able to decide whether he will submit such agreements as a treaty or an executive agreement. Treaties are binding on future administrations, whereas executive agreements can be altered by the next president. President Obama made clear from the beginning of the negotiations that he had no intention to submit this agreement to the Senate as a treaty and planned to implement it solely through U.N. Security Council actions with something called a “non-binding political agreement,” which does not require Senate approval under the Constitution. That is why it was critical that Congress passed my legislation to give the American people a voice on this consequential issue that will affect future generations.

Indeed, in March 2015, then-Secretary of State John Kerry told Congress that the administration was “not negotiating a legally binding plan” and therefore did not need congressional approval.

Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard Law School professor and co-founder of the Lawfare blog, wrote that it’s “simply wrong” for critics of the Iran Review Act to claim that the “President could not have implemented the deal through domestic sanctions relief without first winning the support of the Senate or Congress.”

Goldsmith, July 14, 2015: It is very important to note that but for the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, President Obama could have lifted U.S. sanctions today under waivers and related provisions that Congress in the past gave him. The Iran Review Act disabled the President from lifting those sanctions for a period—60 days from when Congress receives the official documents—so that Congress can review the deal and decide to approve it, oppose it, or do nothing. It is true that Congress will have a hard time killing the deal, and that to do so it will need to find veto-proof super-majorities in both chambers. But the only reason it has a chance to do so, the only reason Congress and the nation can debate the deal before the President implements the domestic sanctions relief side of it, is the Iran Review Act.

The notion that continues to be peddled in some quarters that absent the Iran Review Act, the President could not have implemented the deal through domestic sanctions relief without first winning the support of the Senate or Congress is simply wrong. For those who continue to make this point, I ask: What would have prevented President Obama from exercising today his pre-existing authority to give Iran domestic sanctions relief had Congress not enacted the Iran Review Act? Not the Constitution, which does not require the President to seek congressional or Senate approval for this non-binding deal. And nothing in any statute either.

In a November 2015 letter, the State Department clarified that the Iran nuclear deal “is not a treaty or an executive agreement, and is not a signed document” but rather “reflects political commitments” between the negotiating countries.

State Department letter, November 2015: The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is not a treaty or an executive agreement, and is not a signed document. The JCPOA reflects political commitments between Iran, the P5+1 (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China) and the European Union. As you know, the United States has a long-standing practice of addressing sensitive problems in negotiations that culminate in political commitments.

The success of the JCPOA will depend not on whether it is legally binding or signed, but rather on the extensive verification measures we have put in place, as well as Iran’s understanding that we have the capacity to re-impose – and ramp up – our sanctions if Iran does not meet its commitments.

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, told us the Iran deal simply “was not a treaty between the U.S. and these other countries that required Senate advice and ratification.”

And for Trump to call Corker responsible for the JCPOA is “just not accurate,” Kimball said.

The Review Act negotiated by Corker merely “created a process by which the Senate could have blocked the agreement if it got a sufficient number of votes,” he said.

Without knowing the political background, some might misread Trump’s tweets to mean that Corker helped negotiate the Iran nuclear deal, or that he cast a deciding vote in its favor. He did not. Corker opposed the deal reached by the Obama administration. And he voted to kill it.

Corker’s bill allowed Congress to debate the deal, and if Congress had a veto-proof majority, it would have allowed Congress to kill the deal. Ultimately, Congress didn’t have the votes to pull that off.

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Sen. Bob Corker “gave us the Iran Deal.”

Sunday, October 8, 2017