By PHILIP ELLIOTT
WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Marco Rubio’s fiery criticism of an emerging deal over Iran’s nuclear ambitions fizzled in the cool pragmatism of the Senate, as he joined colleagues on Tuesday in backing a compromise measure during his first full day as a presidential candidate.
The Florida Republican returned to Washington to vote for legislation that that would give Congress the power to approve or reject any agreement with Iran over its nuclear programs. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved that proposal, which now heads to the full Senate.
Yet Rubio ran head-first into the awkward conflict between campaigning for the Oval Office in absolutes and serving on an influential panel that often conducts its business in compromise.
Rubio had been pushing for a long-shot demand that Iran back Israel’s right to exist in exchange for eased economic sanctions. Yet as the foreign affairs panel considered the issue, Rubio backed off.
Rubio acknowledged that his push ultimately “could imperil the entire agreement.” But he hinted that he might try to restore his demand when the full Senate considers the measure — and signaled to backers of his presidential bid that he still cares about Israel.
“I wanted there to be an amendment on this where the president has to certify to Congress that Iran’s leaders have publicly accepted Israel’s right to exist at a minimum,” Rubio said, conceding he could not pull that off in the committee.
He added: “This is an issue that we’re going to have to talk about on the floor as we move forward beyond this place today.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., vowed to fight any changes to the agreement, which won 19-0 backing among committee members.
“This bill has been changed from a point in which I could not support it, to a point where I can,” she said.
The Republican chairman of the panel, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, too, urged colleagues to stick with the compromise: “I think we’ve reached a balance here.”
One of Rubio’s rivals for the GOP nomination, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, sat to his right. Paul, who entered the presidential campaign a week earlier, said nothing during the hearing other than to twice vote in favor of the compromise.
With negotiations between Tehran and world powers continuing, lawmakers are trying not to upend those talks completely with unrealistic demands. Instead, they favored a bill that would give Congress a say on the emerging deal and an opportunity to undercut it if they don’t like the final terms of an agreement.
Strong bipartisan support remains in Congress for lawmakers to review any deal that the United States and five other nations reach with Iran. Many remain skeptical that any deal at all will be completed.
Rubio told reporters it is important that Congress claw for oversight of the deal even if it meant leaving other demands unmet for now.
“Ultimately, if we do nothing,” he said of Congress asserting oversight, “I imagine the administration would be happy with it.”
Associated Press writer Charles Babington contributed to this report.
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