Will A Partisan Congress Disrupt Another Nuclear Deal?

Will A Partisan Congress Disrupt Another Nuclear Deal?

Last week, President Donald Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader, Kim Jong Un, met in Singapore to open talks on a potential nuclear disarmament deal. Last month, Trump announced the withdrawal of the U.S. from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran Deal, under the pretense of the deal being too weak to actually achieve peace.

In his
statement, Trump cited the deal’s sunset provisions, inattention to missile development and the regime’s support of terrorism, and a lack of adequate monitoring and enforcement measures as reasons for pulling out of the deal. The big question now is can Trump really do better than the Iran Deal and, if so, what would that deal look like?

Heading into negotiations, both political parties have made clear what they want out of the deal. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and six other Senate Democrats sent the President a letter stating that the following requirements must be met before they support lifting economic sanctions on North Korea:

  • Complete dismantlement of all nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons
  • Ceased uranium and plutonium production and enrichment for military purposes
  • Destruction of North Korean weapons development infrastructure (e.g. nuclear test sites)
  • Termination of the ballistic missile program
  • Comprehensive inspections
  • Snapback sanctions for non-compliance
  • Permanence of agreement

In 2015, Republican members of Congress expressed displeasure over the controversial Iran Deal bypassing a vote in Congress. This time, they appear to be determined to have any future deal with North Korea be put to a vote in Congress. Trump has already expressed that he fully intends to submit any such deal as a treaty, meaning that it will be permanent in nature and will face a vote.

But can any deal that emerges from these talks survive our ultra-polarized Congress?

Talks have barely begun, but the two parties have already positioned themselves in ways that make producing a deal that can win a supermajority (67 votes) in the U.S. Senate near impossible. By insisting that any agreement with North Korea be submitted to Congress as a treaty, Republicans have ensured that they will need the support of at least 16 Democrats for any deal to become law. However, given the lengthy list of provisions that Democrats say they won’t budge without, achieving such support will be impossible without an air-tight deal. It is doubtful that Trump can secure a deal that checks off every item on the Democrats’ wish list, and even if he can, it will cost the U.S. significant concessions, such as removing American troops from South Korea. This positioning further hurts negotiations by signaling to Kim Jong Un that whatever deal he strikes with Trump has a high likelihood of not making it past Congress, which may cause him to be wary of fully committing to working out a deal.

Nuclear disarmament is one of the most pressing issues of our time, and it is unacceptable that the partisan divisions within Congress may ruin a potential deal with North Korea. These party positions on the negotiations have turned yet another important policy issue into a zero-sum game where neither side is willing to compromise for the sake of the American people because doing so would be equivalent to losing in their eyes. In reality, the only loss in this scenario is not reaching some sort of agreement, and Congress should be united in preventing such an outcome, not gearing up for another partisan fight to the death.

Luckily, nuclear disarmament deals don’t happen overnight. Midterm elections are just a few months away, and if we can elect even just one or two independent Senators, they can act as a unifying force if a treaty with North Korea is ever put to a vote in Congress. Under normal circumstances where only a simple majority is required to pass legislation, this small group of independents could exercise significant influence by preventing either party from having a majority. However, a supermajority vote would still require obtaining votes in favor from both parties, even with support from independents. Fortunately, Senators have to work together on a wide range of issues for at least two to six years, so independents could leverage their typical influence over simple majority issues to convince both parties to compromise in the best interest of Americans.


Tanith is a senior at the Politics, Psychology, Law and Economics College of the University of Amsterdam, where she also minors in Conflict Studies. She is currently an intern at Unite America.

Views and opinions expressed in guest posts do not necessarily reflect those of Unite America.