US Secretary of State John Kerry briefed lawmakers in House of Representatives in a closed doors meeting Monday about ongoing negotiations with Iran for a nuclear deal, and asked for time to secure a final agreement.
Kerry’s meeting with the congressmen came just ahead of a vote on a bill that would give Congress the power to approve or reject a nuclear deal with Iran.
The White House opposes such a bill because it could kill a nuclear deal or even prevent the sides from reaching one in the first place.
“The way the legislation is currently written is something that we strongly oppose,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said.
In a sign of importance President Barack Obama gives to the nuclear talks' and his opposition to the proposed bill, Kerry was accompanied by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, and the group is scheduled to brief lawmakers in the Senate before the vote Tuesday.
"We hope Congress will listen carefully ... but also give us some space so we will be able to complete a very difficult task," Kerry said ahead of his meeting with the lawmakers in the Hill.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) are co-sponsoring the bill that would give congress 60 days to preview and approve or reject a nuclear deal after it is signed by the president, during which the Obama administration would be barred from lifting the sanctions on Iran.
Iran and six world powers - the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia and Germany - have agreed on framework for a final nuclear deal, which they aim to achieve until June 30, to curb the Iranian nuclear program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.
The Obama administration claims that such a bill would hurt chances of reaching a nuclear deal by subjecting it to complex congressional procedures which could end up with a refusal to lift of sanctions, damaging the other international parties’ incentives to reach a deal.
However, sceptical lawmakers from both parties support the bill and want to have the last say on a possible deal, criticizing the Obama administration for shutting them out of the process.
"I'm just concerned that the Iranian nuclear infrastructure seems like it will remain in place even though their capacity for it will be slowed," said Republican Congressman Charlie Dent.
"I reserve the right as a member of Congress to vote yes or to vote no," said Democratic Representative Steve Israel.
Senator Corker said they are planning to have a vote on the bill in the Senate Foreign Relations committee Tuesday, while lawmakers are still discussing around 50 proposed amendments to the bill.
Democrat proposals are trying to give the Obama administration more breathing space for negotiations while the Republicans are pushing for more restrictive measures.
"There have been some tweaks," said Corker "I'm hopeful that we're going to be successful tomorrow," speaking about the vote on the bill.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif) said “It's my intention to bring it to the floor of the House and move it,” if the bill passes through the Senate.
Democrat support for the bill could make it possible to pass the Congress with a veto-proof majority, making Obama’s veto threat futile, as nine Democrats in the Senate are co-sponsoring it.