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The voting math behind the Iran nuclear deal in Congress

September 2, 2015 by NCC Staff


Congress will vote on President Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal later this month. The key numbers to watch are 34, 44, 51, 60 and 218.


Joint_Session_of_Congress-450x300If you are keeping track at home, two U.S. Senators on Tuesday committed to sustain any veto effort launched by President Obama, if Congress rejects the Iran deal. Then Senator Barbara Mikulski announced on Wednesday that she would also support the deal, which in theory puts a constitutional roadblock in front of stopping the deal in the Senate.


Mikulski’s decision brings the number of Senators opposing a possible veto override in the Senate to 34, which is just enough to ensure a presidential veto will be sustained in the Senate - if one is issued.


Both the House and the Senate, which have majorities controlled by the Republicans, are expected to reject the Iran deal, if a vote comes up on the matter. But any bill rejecting the Iran deal faces an uncertain future in the Senate.


Under a law approved by Congress in May and signed by President Obama called the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, Congress has 60 days to review any Iran deal it received after July 10. 2015. President Obama can’t waive sanctions against Iran during this period, and during any period that Congress has issued an act disapproving the Iran agreement and any subsequent veto period.


The act reinforced the power of Congress to pass a law disapproving of the Iran pact by a simple majority vote of the House and Senate. But since this is legislation, President Obama can veto the resolution, using his veto powers under Article I, Section 7, Clause 2, of the Constitution. Any issuance of a presidential veto would force the House and the Senate to override the veto by a two-thirds majority in each chamber – assuming such a motion isn’t blocked or filibustered in the Senate.


In plain English, here is how the process works by the numbers:


Passing a disapproval act in Congress. A simple majority is defined as 50 percent, plus one vote. In the case of a tie in the Senate, the Vice President votes to break a tie. Both the Senate and the House need to approve the same act, which is sent to the President for his signature – or a veto.


Currently, the number for a majority in the Senate is 51 votes, since there are 100 seats in the Senate. But first, a bill or act in the Senate has to be approved to be sent to the floor in what is called a cloture procedure. At least 60 votes are needed to invoke cloture, and prevent a filibuster. The lack of 60 votes can prevent a bill from going forward.


The Republicans control 54 seats in the Senate and they need to pick up 6 more votes from Democrats or Independents to get the disapproval act to a final vote and clear other procedural roadblocks.


Two Senate Democrats are on record as opposing the Iran deal. The Washington Post estimated on Wednesday that seven Democrats in the Senate are undecided on the deal, while two are leaning toward approving it.  The Post also lists a Republican, Susan Collins, as uncommitted; while another political website, The Hill, has Collins as leaning against the deal. To get to 60 votes, the Iran deal’s opponents need four votes from that group of nine Democratic Senators – assuming Collins votes with her Republican colleagues.


In the House, a total of 218 votes is needed to pass the disapproval act. The Republicans control 246 seats in the House. There is no filibuster process in the House, so any disapproval vote will pass in the House.


Overriding or sustaining a veto. If the House and Senate both vote to reject the Iran deal, President Obama has already said he would issue a veto, and not sign the measure.


In that case, tw0-thirds of the House and Senate must vote to override the veto, or the veto becomes sustained.


The numbers needed for a veto override are 67 in the Senate and 290 in the House. In other terms, the Democrats need 34 votes in the Senate to sustain the veto, and the Republicans need to pick up 44 votes in the House from Democrats to override the veto.


Much attention has been paid to the Senate vote count among Democrats. If it truly stands at 34 votes, the Obama administration has the bare minimum to defeat any effort to override his veto.


In the House, the picture is less clear. The Post lists 19 House Democrats as publicly opposed to the Iran deal, or leaning against it. That leaves the Iran Deal opponents seeking at least 25 other votes among Democrats, and the Post has 72 Democrats listed as unknown or undecided about the deal.


But if the Iran Deal opponents can’t secure the votes in the Senate to secure a cloture vote (60 votes needed) or a veto override (67 votes), the House’s actions become symbolic and at the least, a public record of support of or opposition to the Iran deal.


Congress is expected to take up the matter when it returns after Labor Day and it needs to act by September 17.


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