By Niels Lesniewski
David Perdue knew he wanted a seat on the Foreign Relations Committee before he became a senator, and joining the panel has positioned him well for having a voice in the debate over last week’s agreement with Iran about its nuclear program.
There’s been no shortage of bluster and rhetorical flourishes about the potential consequences from detractors of the agreement between Iran and six world powers — the U.S., Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France and Germany. There have even been comparisons to the appeasement of Adolf Hitler by Neville Chamberlain before the outbreak of World War II.
But Perdue, a Georgia Republican known for his business background, favors a far more sober approach to the congressional review process. He spoke with CQ Roll Call last week, shortly before he planned to go to a secure room to review classified documents about the deal and components related to the United Nations.
“Our job right now is to do what we set out to do in the first beginning, and that is to get a bipartisan consensus about what’s best for the American security, American people and really deal with this in that perspective. This is not about the president. It’s not about partisan politics,” Perdue said. “You know, we had a unanimous vote in the Foreign Relations Committee.”
Perdue was speaking of the legislation ultimately spearheaded by Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and ranking member Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., that set up the ground rules for the legislative branch to have the chance to disapprove of the ultimate agreement with Iran.
As the only former Fortune 500 CEO serving in the Senate, Perdue has experience working overseas and prefers to study the issues and work behind the scenes.
“As a member of that committee, I’ve lived outside the United States, I’ve worked outside the United States. I brought a perspective, and we fought hard — both sides. Sen. Cardin did a great job. Sen. Corker did a great job of bringing us together and getting a consensus vote,” Perdue said.
Perdue was among the senators building up support for that original legislation, which ultimately got more than the 67 votes needed to overcome what was at that point an expected veto by President Barack Obama. Now, the challenge is to build a consensus about a response to the agreement that could achieve similar support.
He was also one of many Republicans (and some key Democrats) who criticized Obama for what critics view as an end-run around the process by going to the United Nations Monday.
“After capitulating to Iran’s demands, President Obama and Secretary [of State John] Kerry sidelined the American people by advancing the Iran deal today in a United Nations Security Council vote without Congressional review,” Perdue said in a statement after the UN vote. “The Obama Administration claims this deal makes Americans safer and stops a nuclear Iran, when in reality it does neither.”
The congressional review really gets going Wednesday afternoon, when senators are scheduled to be briefed by the administration about the agreement in a closed setting. The first of several open hearings at the Foreign Relations Committee is set for Thursday, featuring Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest J. Moniz and Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew.
“What we are about is to bring the experts in here, bring the administration to give them a chance to explain what the deal really is. They have not done that yet,” Perdue said. “We saw some things in the report this week that we did not know existed, and so now we have an opportunity to do that. We also have the opportunity to bring outside people in to give them their perspective. I have to tell you though that I am very, very skeptical at this point.”
Perdue praised Corker for the process and for helping to get him on the committee in the first place, and the feeling is mutual.
“He’s outstanding,” Corker said of his freshman colleague. “I knew him before he came to the Senate and I didn’t know him well, but I knew of his distinguished, very distinguished career in business. I got to know him a little bit during the campaign but I really lobbied hard for … him to be on the committee. He’s just the best. I cannot say enough good things about Sen. Perdue. His maturity, his thoughtfulness, his ability to discern what’s important and what isn’t.”
Perdue has already made two trips overseas, and he has met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
One of his projects at Foreign Relations is working with Corker and panel Democrats on the crafting of a State Department authorization bill, as chairman of the subcommittee that oversees the agency’s operations.
It’s been more than 13 years since the State Department’s had an authorization bill advance, but like Corker, Perdue seems interested in restoring the former role of the Foreign Relations Committee in big national debates.