Pelosi in overdrive to sell Obama’s nuke deal with Iran

Francis Rivera

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is conducting an aggressive August campaign to rally House Democrats behind President Obama’s landmark nuclear deal with Iran.

The minority leader is hitting the phones to whip on-the-fence Democrats, in hopes of building proponent numbers to seal the deal in the face of GOP efforts to scuttle it. 

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That Democratic backing might not be necessary, as Senate GOP leaders are struggling to find enough Democratic votes to defeat a filibuster and send the disapproval measure to Obama. 

But Pelosi is leaving nothing to chance.

She staged a full caucus conference call in the second week of August, which featured a discussion of the Iran deal.

She's reaching out to undecided Democrats to pitch the importance of the agreement in preventing Iran from building nuclear arms.

Her office blasts a blanket email each time another Democrat backs the accord.

And she's invited the ambassadors from each of the six world powers that negotiated the Iranian deal — the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — to meet next month with House Democrats on their second day back in Washington following the long summer recess.

Pelosi last month also assembled a team of “at least a dozen” other Democrats to help her to make calls through the break, according to Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who is among that group.

“I'm talking to the leader almost daily on this,” Schakowsky said Monday by phone.

Reps. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) and David Price (D-N.C.) are also leading the charge.

Schakowsky said the informal whip team did “a good deal of dividing” their targets last month before the recess, taking into consideration a host of factors that include region, gender and more personal components. 

“There's some overlap, which is a good thing. … But each of us has people who are likely to be more responsive,” she said, noting that she's “particularly calling women.”

Supporters of the deal on and off Capitol Hill said Pelosi's full-throated push for the accord is vital to securing it.

“It's exactly the type of Democratic leadership we need … to push a more effective, less bloody foreign policy,” Zack Malitz, campaign manager at Credo Action, a liberal advocacy group, said Monday. “Her efforts are tremendously important.”

Pelosi's fierce engagement comes in anticipation that Republican leaders will pass their disapproval measure in both chambers and Democrats will be needed to sustain Obama's promised veto. For Pelosi, that means mobilizing 146 of the 188 House Democrats — a figure she thinks she can hit.

“I feel very confident about it,” Pelosi told the Associated Press last week.

Pelosi and other supporters appear to have some momentum, as 80 House Democrats are either supporting or leaning toward supporting the deal, while only 13 have announced their opposition, according to The Hill’s whip list. In the Senate, meanwhile, only two Democrats are vowing to vote no, raising questions about whether Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can find the 60 votes needed to pass the disapproval measure at all. 

McConnell has said Obama has a “great likelihood of success” in finalizing the accord.

Still, many lower-chamber Democrats remain undecided in the weeks leading up to the vote — including Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), and Reps. Xavier Becerra (Calif.) and Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), who head the Democratic Caucus — and the proponents are taking nothing for granted.

A House Democratic aide whose boss is supporting the deal said the Democrats whipping the vote are doing so “still fully expecting” they'll have to rally support to prevent Republicans from overriding the veto.

“I'd like to say we're optimistic, but there's a lot of hard work left to be done,” the aide said.

Schakowsky echoed that sentiment, noting that the newer members in particular are under intense pressure from constituents and outside lobbying groups alike. Her message to them?

“This is one of the most consequential votes you'll ever make,” she said. “You need to throw out the noise.”

She said there are “a number” of lawmakers who have already decided but haven't made a public announcement.

“Some will express that to me; some won't,” she added. “People are very positive; it's just a matter of when [they'll make an announcement].”

Schakowsky said the informal whip team is encouraging members to announce their decision earlier than later, which might persuade other lawmakers — and provide them political cover.

“Making an early announcement means that large target on their back will be off,” Schakowsky said. 

The group is hoping to have “a good, large number” in the yes column before Congress reconvenes after Labor Day, she added.

“Every day I feel more confident that we're going to have sufficient votes to sustain a veto,” she said.