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Again and again, U.S. Rep. Dave Brat places himself in the vanguard of congressmen opposed to the Iran nuclear deal.
"I was one of the few, very few, who voted `no’ on the Iran deal," Brat, R-7th, said during an Aug. 10 breakfast with Henrico County business leaders.
"On the Iran bill, you want to know one of the few people who voted `no’ on the deal?" Brat asked at speech that night at the University of Richmond. He answered by raising his hand.
And during an Aug. 18 radio interview on "The John Frederick Show," Brat reiterated, "I was one of the few votes against the Iran deal because I believe the Senate has a constitutional duty on treaties."
All of this caught our attention for a simple reason: The Iran deal hasn’t come up for a vote.
So we took a deep dive into Brat’s statements.
The deal, you’ll remember, was reached in July between Iran and a group of six nations led by the United States. Iran agreed to limit significantly its nuclear capabilities for more than a decade in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions that have crippled its economy.
Supporters say the accord, while far from perfect, has safeguards that will prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons in the near term. They say the U.S. needed to make concessions, because many of its allies have grown weary of continuing economic sanctions against the oil-rich nation.
Opponents say the deal lacks long-term guarantees that Iran -- hostile to Israel and the U.S. -- won’t develop nukes. They say the U.S. should demand that Iran renounce any future nuclear arms ambitions in exchange for lifting sanctions. Brat has made these points repeatedly.
But when did the congressman vote against the accord?
Jack Minor, Brat’s communications director, told us the vote occurred June 14 on a bill that gave Congress the power to review and potentially reject the Iran deal. The House overwhelmingly passed the measure, 400-25, with Brat voting in the minority. A week earlier, the bill sailed through the Senate on a 98-1 vote.
It’s important to note that the roll calls were not up-or-down votes on the deal and that the bill did not directly pertain to provisions in the accord. The measure set up a review process that would require Congress, if it’s of such a mind, to pass a resolution rejecting the accord. If one or both of the chambers can’t muster a majority vote against the agreement by Sept. 17, the deal takes effect.
Brat voted against the review bill because, according to Minor, it would "grease the skids" for the deal. Let’s explain:
President Barack Obama had a choice on how to designate the accord: either as a treaty or as an executive agreement. He opted for the latter, and Brat objects to that decision.
An executive agreement is a political accord -- as opposed to a legal one -- between heads of states. Presidents of both parties increasingly have opted to enter into executive agreements because, unlike a treaty, they give Congress narrow -- if any -- sway.
A treaty, which is a binding legal agreement, must be ratified by a two-thirds vote in the 100-member Senate. That would be an impossible barrier for the Iran deal, given that 41 Republicans and two Democrats in the senate already have said they oppose the deal, according to an article on The Hill, a political website.
Executive agreements are not binding; they can be reversed by the next president. The trade-off, for sitting presidents, is that they do not necessarily require congressional approval. In the case of the Iran deal, with emotions high on both sides, Obama agreed to give Congress a say through the procedures bill that Brat opposed.
Under the legislation, as we’ve said, Congress could reject the Iran agreement with a majority vote in each chamber. But, as Brat and others note, Obama likely would veto such a resolution. His veto would be sustained if it’s backed by one-third of the members in either house -- a low hurdle given Democratic support for the accord. That’s a far smaller threshold than the two-thirds backing Obama would need in the Senate to pass a treaty.
Brat opposed the procedures bill because he believes Obama has a constitutional obligation to submit the Iran deal as a treaty, according to Minor, the congressman’s spokesman. Brat has introduced a bill, with three cosponsors, that would require the deal to be considered as a treaty. The measure is sitting in the in the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Does Brat’s vote against the procedures make him one of "the few" to vote against the accord? We asked two political scientists who have studied the use of treaties and executive agreements to weigh in.
Michael Ramsey at the University of San Diego said the claim is misleading, because if the procedures bill had failed, as Brat hoped, Obama would have been free to implement the Iran deal without consulting Congress. Even if Brat had carried the day, "that would have not stopped the deal," Ramsey said.
Ramsey also said Brat’s statement inaccurately implies that legislators who voted for the procedures bill support the Iran deal. To the contrary, 197 House Republicans who backed the procedures bill have signed a resolution voicing disapproval of the Iran accord. All told, 219 Republicans -- including Brat -- have signed the resolution. That’s more than half of the House.
Andrew Rudalevige at Bowdoin College said Brat cast a symbolic vote against the deal. But he also noted that if Congress had rejected the procedures bill, "they wouldn’t have given themselves the review and reporting requirements that were in the act, and that Obama agreed to, so you can argue they would have been worse off on the margins."
Rudalevige added, "The real vote against the Iran deal will be when the resolution for disapproval comes up on the floor."
Brat says, "I was one of the few, very few, who voted `no’ on the Iran deal."
But the Iran accord has not come up for a vote.
What Brat voted against was a procedural bill that gave Congress the power to review and potentially reject the Iran accord. Brat objected that Obama negotiated the deal as an executive agreement instead of as a treaty, which would have been required to clear a higher level of congressional support.
The congressman was in the minority on a 400-25 bipartisan vote to pass the procedures. Brat’s statement implies that those who backed the bill supported the Iran deal. To the contrary, had the bill failed, Obama could have enacted the Iran deal without input from Congress. Almost 200 Republicans who voted for the procedures that allow them to have a say subsequently have signed a resolution opposing the Iran accord.
Clearly, Brat cast what he sees as a protest vote against the deal. But again, the real vote on the accord has not occurred and when it does, many in addition to Brat are poised to oppose it.
We rate Brat’s statement False.
U.S. Rep. Dave Brat, Remarks to Henrico County business leaders, Aug. 10, 2015.
Brat, Remarks to the Virginia chapter of Americans for Prosperity, Aug. 10, 2015.
Brat, Interview on the John Fredericks Show, Aug. 18, 2015.
Email from Jack Minor, communications director for Brat, Aug. 24, 2015.
Associated Press, "House bill calls for Congress to approve Iran nuclear bill," May 14, 2015.
Dave Brat, Richmond Times-Dispatch op-ed, Aug. 22, 2015.
The Wall Street Journal, "Treaties vs. executive agreements: when does Congress get a vote?" March 10, 2015.
Anthony Rudalevige, "Executive agreements and senate disagreements," March 10, 2015.
Email from Anthony Rudalevige, government professor at Bowdoin College, Aug. 25, 2015.
Email and interview with Michael Ramsey, professor at the University of San Diego School of Law, Aug. 26, 2015.
CNN, "Iran deal, A treaty or not a treaty, that is the question," March 12, 2015.
Roll Call, "Iran deal: treaty or not?" July 21, 2015.
Library of Congress, H.Res. 367, accessed Aug. 25, 2015.
Library of Congress, H. Res. 3199, accessed Aug. 25, 2015.
The New York Times, "Deal reached on Iran nuclear program; limits on fuel would lessen with time," July 14, 2015.
The Hill, "The Hill’s whip list, 29 Dem senators backing Iran deal," July 14, 2015.
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