Republican senators, anxious about high-stakes US talks with Kim Jong Un, say they have received commitments from President Donald Trump and his top lieutenants that Congress would get a vote on any nuclear deal reached with North Korea.
Giving Congress a say would be significant because it would pressure Trump to reach a deal that could be supported by a broad bipartisan majority in Congress. Behind the scenes, Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have told various Republican senators that any deal they'd reach would be in the form of a treaty, which requires the support of two-thirds of the Senate for ratification, according to multiple GOP senators.
Moreover, easing sanctions on North Korea would likely require congressional approval to change federal law, which would require the support of 60 senators to overcome any filibuster attempt in addition to approval in the majority-rules House.
Whether Trump can reach a deal with Kim -- and ultimately follows through on these private assurances -- remains to be seen. But Republican senators, who sharply criticized then-President Barack Obama for cutting a nuclear deal in Iran and not sending it to Congress in the form of a treaty, are eager to ensure Trump does give them the final say.
"The President, vice president and the secretary of state have all told me separately that their intent is to put together a treaty that will be submitted to the United States Senate under the Constitution for ratification," said Sen. Jim Risch, an Idaho Republican who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The chairman of the committee, Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, also said Pompeo had assured him that he planned to make any accord a treaty that would require Senate ratification.
"I know that Pompeo and others have indicated that they would like it to be a treaty," Corker told CNN. "We are way ahead of ourselves right now. I mean who knows if there's going to be an agreement, but if one is reached, I hope it's a treaty."
The White House did not respond to a request for comment. The North Korea-US summit with Trump and Kim is slated to take place next week in Singapore, a meeting that is expected to be followed by lengthy talks with Pompeo and other senior Trump administration officials to hammer out the details of any agreement.
After emerging Tuesday from a hearing before a Foreign Relations subcommittee on the issue of North Korea, Risch said Congress needs to be kept apprised of how the talks are unfolding.
"The President of the United States and his team clearly understands the constitutional responsibility of both branches of government," Risch told reporters. "They understand and take seriously the advice and consent provisions in the Constitution. They are exercising that."
When asked what role Congress should play in this process, Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado emphasized that he has had "multiple conversations" with national security adviser John Bolton and the President about the summit. He said it's in the "best interest of the White House to continue their work with Congress to share with us progress, strategy and ideas."
Gardner would not say if he preferred that Congress vote on any deal.
"I think the more input from the Congress, the better it is," Gardner said. "But I'm not convinced yet we're going to have a denuclearization agreement out of this summit."
Democrats, including Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, who also sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, agreed that Congress would "ultimately be called upon to enforce and ratify any agreement which is reached."
But whether the GOP leadership will demand a vote on any deal with North Korea remains to be seen.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said Congress' role will at least be to deal with "the sanctions front" if there's an agreement with North Korea. But he stopped short of calling for a deal to be in the form of a treaty.
"Right now, we're cheering on the administration and hoping for a successful outcome," Cornyn said.
- Source: Bolton tried to derail N. Korea talks
- Source: John Bolton pushed out Tom Bossert
- Sources: Bolton, Kudlow rise in White House
- Pompeo and Bolton outline North Korea plans as talks approach
- Bolton: Strong prospects for North Korea if ...
- Trump contradicts Bolton on North Korea
- Source: N. Korea hopeful for 2nd summit
- White House downplays Bolton comments after North Korea outcry
- Is North Korea trying to get John Bolton fired?
- Bolton sidelined as Trump readies for North Korea