Liberals are livid at Sen. Charles Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) decision to oppose the White House’s nuclear deal with Iran, and they have threatened to launch a full-scale war as retribution.
It’s unclear whether Schumer’s announcement will have a devastating effect on the White House’s efforts to prevent Democrats from killing the deal when it comes up for a vote in Congress next month.
But it’s clear that he will be public enemy No. 1 for liberal activists throughout Congress's August recess as they aim to rally support from Democrats on the agreement.
“This is a real and serious backlash, one that comes from deep within the Democratic Party’s base, and I think we’re only going to see it grow,” said Becky Bond, the political director for Credo Action.
Liberal groups including Credo, MoveOn.org and Democracy for America are rallying supporters to flood congressional mailboxes and town halls over the course of the next month to demand lawmakers support the agreement. On Friday, they launched a new website, 60DaysToStopAWar.com, to list upcoming town halls and aid in the push.
Late on Thursday evening, Schumer upended the congressional debate over the Iran agreement by announcing in a lengthy statement that he “must oppose the agreement” and “will vote yes on a motion of disapproval” when it comes up for a vote in September.
He also will vote to override President Obama’s promised veto on any legislation that would kill the deal, Schumer’s office confirmed.
The move puts Schumer at odds with both Obama and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner, on the most significant foreign policy issue of the year.
His decision left many liberals furious and stunned at how the presumptive next Senate Democratic leader could break with virtually every other leader of their party.
Even though the No. 3 Senate Democrat released his statement in the middle of the first GOP presidential debate — practically ensuring it would be buried in the media coverage — activist groups including MoveOn and Credo pounced within moments.
“No real Democratic leader does this,” MoveOn.org political action executive director Ilya Sheyman declared less than 30 minutes after Schumer’s statement appeared online. “If this is what counts as ‘leadership’ among Democrats in the Senate, Senate Democrats should be prepared to find a new leader or few followers.”
In retaliation, Sheyman called for MoveOn.org’s 8 million supporters to cease donating money to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and any Democratic candidate who opposes the deal.
Bloggers at the liberal website Daily Kos called Schumer a “warmonger” who would “be a disaster” as the top Senate Democrat.
Ex-Obama aides including Dan Pfeiffer, Tommy Vietor and Ben LaBolt similarly condemned the stance, questioning whether Schumer would be able to lead Democrats in the upper chamber after so publicly breaking with the leader of the party.
“Chuck SchumerCharles SchumerSenate Dems hold out on spending deal, risking shutdown Dems see ’18 upside in ObamaCare repeal Confirm Gary Richard Brown for the Eastern District of New York MORE, who said it was a mistake to pass Obamacare, now comes out again the Iran Deal,” tweeted former White House speechwriter Jon Favreau. “This is our next Senate leader?”
In their outrage, multiple defenders of the deal referenced Schumer’s claim in December that Congress was focusing on the “wrong problem” in passing ObamaCare in 2009, as well as his 2002 support for the invasion in Iraq.
For some, the biggest sting appeared to be less about Schumer’s position than about his timing.
The New York Democrat had long been critical about the Iran deal, and few people watching the congressional debate were surprised that he ultimately came out against it.
But many expected him to wait for weeks so that other Democrats would already have made their decision and would not be influenced by his call.
James Fallows, a national correspondent for The Atlantic, who is liberal, said on Twitter that he “can understand” why Schumer would oppose the deal.
“But if he lifts a finger” to convince other Democrats to oppose the agreement, the “party should oppose him as Senate leader,” Fallow tweeted.
Obama and Clinton, he added, “should join in.”
White House spokesman Eric Schultz retweeted a part of Fallows’s message.
On Thursday, Schumer confirmed that he will “try to persuade [fellow lawmakers] that the vote to disapprove is the right one,” but rejected the idea that he would be able to force any Democrats to follow his lead.
It’s unlikely that the debate will substantively diminish Schumer’s chances at taking the reins of the Senate Democratic Conference next year, though liberals insist that the bitter taste in their mouth isn’t going away anytime soon.
“You can imagine a scenario where, let’s say Republicans win the presidency and Democrats are not only in the minority but there’s a Republican in the White House, and who will the Democratic Party want to lead them?” asked Bond, the Credo Action political director. “The guy that said ObamaCare was a mistake? A guy that championed the first Iraq war? A guy that helped Republicans take us into, if successful, a new war of choice in the Middle East? That’s not going to be the guy the Democrats need to lead.”
“There’s a lot of time between now and that vote, and the progressive base is pushing back hard,” she told The Hill.
While nominally directed at Schumer, the anger could also be read as a thinly veiled message to other Democrats who are currently on the fence about the deal, including Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.).
That message: Schumer doesn’t give you cover.
Schumer’s Thursday evening bombshell flipped the script on the congressional narrative surrounding the deal, which has been gaining support from lawmakers such as Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) and Schumer’s own New York colleague, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).
Opponents still have steep climb to win over 44 Democrats in the House and 13 in the Senate needed kill the Iran deal and fend off an Obama veto.
“We're going to get the Iran deal done with or without Sen. Schumer or anyone else who insists on being trapped in the past when it comes to conflict resolution in the Middle East,” said Charles Chamberlain, the executive director of Democracy for America, in a statement to The Hill.
“Senator Schumer was wrong when he voted to back the war with Iraq and he's wrong to work with Republicans to kill this nuclear deal with Iran, period,” he added.
Schumer was a big win for opponents, but they appear to still be far from the magic number.
“I think the impact is that now the hope of killing a resolution of disapproval on an initial vote with 41 Democratic votes against is now gone,” added another person who is following the vote.
“But I still think 34 Democratic votes upholding the presidential veto is more likely than not.”