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Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandMeet Trump’s ‘mad dog’ for the Pentagon McCain to support waiver for Mattis, Trump team says Dem senator comes out against waiver for Mattis to be Defense head MORE (D-N.Y.) threw her support behind the Iran nuclear deal on Thursday, saying there's no "viable alternative" to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
"If we reject this deal, we do not have a viable alternative for preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons," she said, announcing her support a day after the Senate left Washington for a five-week recess. "Our goal has been, and remains, to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. We have far more ability to achieve that outcome if we approve this deal."
The New York senator was considered a Democrat to watch on the Iran nuclear deal.
Her decision to support the agreement separates her from her senior in-state colleague Sen. Charles Schumer, who is still undecided. The influential Democrat is expected to get a mountain of pressure from both sides, given that his vote for or against the deal could sway colleagues who are still on the fence.
Gillibrand cited the level of inspections included in the agreement, the fact that the deal "cuts off all paths to a bomb" and the ability to reinstate sanctions if Iran cheats as reasons why she decided to support it.
Under the agreement, Iran accepts limits on its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief that could help strengthen its economy.
Gillibrand's support for the deal comes after a handful of Senate Democrats, including Sens. Tim Kaine (Va.) and Bill Nelson (Fla.), backed the agreement this week.
Republicans have largely lined up against the deal ahead of a vote in September, arguing that if Congress rejects the current agreement they could force Iran to agree to a better one.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellDriverless car industry embraces Trump’s Transportation pick Trump flirts with Dems for Cabinet Lawmakers eye early exit from Washington MORE (R-Ky.) echoed that thinking on Thursday, telling reporters, "It's either this deal or a better deal, or more sanctions."
But Gillibrand rejected that, saying that "rejecting it and leaving only U.S. sanctions in place without the essential support of the international community will move us closer to military confrontation. ... Without a deal, and without inspectors on the ground, we will be left in the dark as Iran resumes its pursuit of a nuclear weapon."
The Senate is expected to take up legislation on the Iran deal as soon as they return to Washington in September, and opponents are hoping to use the five-week break to sway roughly a dozen Democrats to buck Obama and kill the agreement.
Criticism of the deal has focused on the alleged side agreements between Iran and an international organization, the lifting of an arms embargo, and the fact that it doesn't include other areas of U.S. criticism, including Iran's lack of support for Israel.
Gillibrand acknowledged the criticism, saying that there are "legitimate and serious concerns."
She also sought to underscore her support for Israel, saying, "Congress must continue its unwavering commitment to ensuring that Israel retains a qualitative military edge in the region — an effort I will continue to steadfastly support."
She added that she's also supported foreign and defense funding for Israel and that will push "for a new Israel defense aid package."
Gillibrand, like Schumer, was expected to get pressure from pro-Israel groups that are opposed to the agreement and to kill the deal, highlighting the competing forces that the New York lawmakers haves faced.