Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerWhat the GOP’s plan to kill essential health benefits means Freedom Caucus, Trump reach 'agreement in principle' on healthcare Gorsuch hearings: A referendum on Originalism and corporate power MORE (D-N.Y.) is facing one of the most challenging decisions of his 40-year political career.
The Senate Democratic leader-in-waiting is under heavy pressure from the Obama administration and liberals to support the president’s Iran nuclear deal. But the new accord is also testing his longtime allegiance to pro-Israel causes.
It’s a tough call for Schumer, who represents many Jewish constituents in New York. Groups opposed to the Iran deal plan to spend tens of millions of dollars on a lobbying campaign to quash it, according to an official at one Jewish group.
Democratic senators say the effort could hinge on Schumer, perhaps the most influential member of their caucus and a leader on issues related to Israel.
So far, he has only issued a carefully worded statement that he will thoroughly review the deal.
“Chuck is such an important figure in our caucus and he’s such a good friend of mine and most everybody in the caucus,” said centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), one of the Democrats on the fence about the deal. He said if Schumer votes against the deal, he likely won’t try to pressure fellow Democrats.
“If Chuck doesn’t make the push, then it’s going to be what it’s going to be,” Manchin added. “That’s what I kind of anticipate because if he was going to go ballistic, if he was going to fight it, he would have made the move.”
Waging an assault on the agreement would be a viewed as a slap at the centerpiece of Obama’s second-term foreign policy legacy. It would also put him at odds with a majority of Democrats and some liberal activists who are wary of Schumer’s ties to Wall Street.
“Historically, this is a huge deal for the Obama administration,” said a former Schumer aide, who predicted that wouldn’t necessarily stop him from voting against it.
Should Schumer back Obama’s deal, he would have political cover from Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner for president. Clinton, a former senator from New York, has endorsed the agreement.
Schumer’s status as the incoming Senate Democratic leader in 2017 didn’t stop him from opposing fast-track trade authority, another one of Obama’s highest legislative priorities.
But this issue is more important to Schumer’s constituents, and cable-network pundits are already speculating about how the 64-year-old senator will ultimately vote.
Schumer has all but clinched the Democratic leader’s job in the next Congress and is expected to cruise to reelection next year. Still, he doesn’t want to revive lingering tensions with liberals, some of whom are partial to his one-time rival, Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.).
Jewish leaders in New York predict Schumer will vote to overturn the accord. They note he often tells pro-Israel constituents that his last name derives from Shomer, the Hebrew word for defender, and describes himself as a defender of Israel. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) also pointed out the meaning of Schumer’s name this week during an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
“This bill is a complete catastrophe and I think you’ll see Chuck Schumer and many other Democrats vote against this bill,” said Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.
Schumer has been at odds with Obama for months over the nuclear talks with Iran.
He co-sponsored bipartisan legislation with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) giving Congress oversight authority on the final deal, which the White House initially opposed.
But he has also helped the administration at key moments; for example, he worked with Menendez to put together a letter signed by 10 Democrats in January giving the administration more time to negotiate a framework with Iran.
Menendez, who has worked with Schumer over the past several months to give Congress authority to weigh in on the deal, said it will be a big vote.
“As the person who’s going to be the next Democratic leader, I assume whenever [he] takes a position it’s going to be significant,” he said of Schumer’s influence in the caucus.
But while the New York Dem might not want to hand the president a major foreign policy setback, he must also be careful not to support something that could haunt his relationship with constituents for years to come.
“If in the future Iran acquires a nuclear bomb, notwithstanding delaying its efforts, I wouldn’t want my name on it,” Menendez said of the deal.
“What’s more important with Schumer is not the way he votes but what he ends up saying about the deal,” said Noah Pollak, executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, which targeted Schumer with a cable ad in early July.
“If he came out next week and said this deal is terrible for America’s security, this is not what we were promised, I will vigorously oppose this deal. That would be a significant event,” he added.
Opponents of the Iran deal plan to hold a major rally next week in Manhattan’s Times Square to put pressure on Schumer and other lawmakers to vote against the deal.
It will feature former CIA Director James Woolsey, former Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet James “Ace” Lyons and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz as speakers. The July 22 rally is expected to draw 10,000 to 15,000 people.
“It’s about getting people like Chuck Schumer to do the right thing,” said Lauri Regan, one of the organizers.