Republican leaders in Congress are crafting their attack plan against the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran.
Lawmakers will have 60 days to review the deal after the White House delivers the text of the historic agreement to Capitol Hill. The GOP could seek to move a measure of disapproval, but it will be difficult to win a filibuster-proof 60 votes, much less the 67 required to overcome a presidential veto.
But Republicans believe they will win the public relations battle on the deal, which largely unites the GOP and threatens to divide the Democratic Party.
Some Senate Republicans are thinking about moving a motion of approval of the deal, believing it would put Democrats in a tough spot ahead of next year’s elections. Such a move in the upper chamber could lead to less than half of the Senate backing the president, allowing for more favorable headlines for the GOP. The House, however, is more likely to pass a resolution of disapproval.
A third option is to move legislation sponsored by Menendez and Sen. Mark KirkMark KirkThe way forward on the Iran nuclear deal under President Trump ObamaCare repeal bill would defund Planned Parenthood Leaked ObamaCare bill would defund Planned Parenthood MORE (R-Ill.) placing new sanctions on Iran, which the Banking Committee passed earlier this year and has Democratic support.
“All options are on the table,” said a Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations panel who requested anonymity. “I wouldn’t take anything off.”
Republicans will likely use the Iran votes as ammunition on the campaign trail in 2016. But Democrats have the bully pulpit, and the Obama administration has initiated a huge campaign to sway the public.
New York Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerDems: Trump’s first 100 days full of broken promises to middle class Priebus: I believe the government will stay open So what if banks push fancy cards? Give consumers the steak they want MORE, the third-ranking member of the Senate Democratic leadership, is emerging as a critical vote.
Senate Republicans need to hold their ranks and persuade 13 Democrats to vote with them to override President Obama’s threatened veto of a resolution of disapproval.
“If Schumer comes out and says, ‘I looked at the bill and studied its details and think it’s a good deal and will stop Iran from getting weapons,’ there will be zero hope of overriding an Obama veto,” said Noah Pollak, executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, which funded a six-figure Web campaign targeting Schumer earlier this year.
“If Schumer says this doesn’t do it, it lifts the arms embargo and doesn’t have anytime, anywhere inspections, then we have a fight on our hands. He’s a linchpin or a bellwether,” he added.
Schumer and other Senate Democrats held off on judging the deal Tuesday.
“I intend to go through this agreement with a fine-tooth comb, speak with administration officials, and hear from experts on all sides,” Schumer said in a statement. “Supporting or opposing this agreement is not a decision to be made lightly, and I plan to carefully study the agreement before making an informed decision.”
Colleagues say Schumer appears genuinely torn.
“He’s very sober. He said, ‘I’m going to make a decision on this based on what’s best for the country,’ ” said a Democratic colleague speaking on background.
Rep. Eliot Engel (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a leading Iran critic, said the deal is “deeply troubling.”
He noted that under the agreement, an arms embargo on Iran will be lifted within five years and sanctions on its ballistic missiles will be lifted within eight.
Jewish groups, led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), will launch a massive lobbying campaign targeted at swing Democrats.
“There’s going to be a giant push from all the Jewish groups, AIPAC, everybody,” said a source familiar with the group’s plan, predicting a pressure campaign funded with millions of dollars.
Senior administration officials are planning their own major lobbying offensive.
National security adviser Susan Rice, Vice President Biden and Tony Blinken, deputy secretary of State, have already started working the phones, according to senators.
Obama called Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerLobbyists bounce back under Trump Business groups silent on Trump's Ex-Im nominee Chaffetz won't run for reelection MORE (R-Ohio) and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) Monday night to alert them a deal was imminent.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerBob CorkerGroups warn of rural health 'crisis' under ObamaCare repeal Ringing the alarm in Congress: 20 million lives at risk due to famine Senators want more efficient way to get food aid to Africa MORE (R-Tenn.) said Tuesday his panel will hold hearings on the pact over the next three weeks, and predicted a vote in September after the August recess.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn McCainWeek ahead: Pentagon funding in the balance as deadline looms Kasich: 'I think political parties are on their way out' Five fights for Trump’s first year MORE (R-Ariz.) said his panel would hold separate hearings, focusing on verifying that Iran is complying with a long-term agreement.
McCain said if Republicans don’t have enough votes to overturn the deal with a disapproval resolution, they could send a strong signal by forcing a vote on an approval measure that attracts only weak support.
“That would be a great signal,” he said.
He called the prospect of passing the Kirk-Menendez sanctions bill “extremely difficult.”
Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidWeek ahead: House to revive Yucca Mountain fight Warren builds her brand with 2020 down the road 'Tuesday Group' turncoats must use recess to regroup on ObamaCare MORE (D-Nev.) said lawmakers will be briefed by the administration and that those talks will be “extensive in nature.”
Pushing a Senate vote on the Iran nuclear deal until September would give opponents more time to mobilize and pressure Democrats to buck the administration.
A Senate Democratic leadership aide expressed concern that leaving the deal twisting in the wind for two months could give Republicans enough time to muster 67 votes for a veto override.
“The fact that there’s a vote in September makes me worry. If the votes were held now, we’d be fine,” said the aide.
In a statement delivered at the White House with Biden standing alongside him, Obama said, “I will veto any legislation that prevents the successful implementation of this deal.”
Corker predicted the president could change his mind if a resolution of disapproval gains enough political momentum, citing the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which Obama initially opposed but then signed into law.
“I would like to remind him, you know, he said the same thing about the Iran Review Act,” Corker said when asked about the latest veto threat.
Obama’s deal won a boost Tuesday when former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonWeek ahead: US raises pressure on WikiLeaks Poll: 85 percent of Clinton supporters would vote for her again OMB director: Government shutdown not a 'desired end' MORE, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination next year, endorsed it during meetings with Democratic lawmakers.
“This is an important step in putting a lid on Iran’s nuclear program,” Clinton told reporters following a meeting with House Democrats.
Her upstart rival for the nomination, Vermont Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersPelosi: 'Of course' Dems can be against abortion Kasich: 'I think political parties are on their way out' Sanders: Democratic Party's model is 'failing' MORE (I), also spoke favorably of it.
“I congratulate President Obama, Secretary Kerry and the leaders of other major nations for producing a comprehensive agreement to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” he said in a statement. “This is a victory for diplomacy over saber-rattling and could keep the United States from being drawn into another never-ending war in the Middle East.”
Jordain Carney, Kristina Wong, Scott Wong and Mike Lillis contributed.
This story was updated at 1:26 p.m.