By Alexander Bolton - 08/11/15 03:30 PM EDT
Democratic senators say Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerThis week: Senate showdown over gun control Dems push vulnerable GOP senators on gun control Senate schedules Monday votes on gun control MORE’s opposition to President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran won’t prevent him from becoming their next leader.
Even a potential rival to Schumer said Democratic senators who back the Iran deal will not turn on Schumer over the divisive vote.
Schumer’s decision to oppose Obama on Iran didn’t surprise Durbin, who was once seen as Schumer’s top rival to succeed retiring Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
“I can tell you that I know Chuck pretty well. I have listened to him carefully and heard his comments about the negotiations carefully,” Durbin said. “I always expected him to be against the agreement. This didn’t come as a major shock or surprise.”
Schumer’s decision has irritated the White House and enraged former aides to President Obama, who have launched a public attack on the powerful New York Democrat.
Former Obama advisor David Plouffe called Schumer naive in a message on Twitter after the senator urged Obama to go back to the negotiating table “to try to get a better deal.”
“Mitch McConnell will have a field day with this kind of naïveté. We will miss Harry Reid,” Plouffe tweeted, referring to the Senate GOP leader.
Another former senior Obama advisor, Dan Pfeiffer, tweeted last week that “Schumer siding with the GOP against Obama, Clinton, and most Democrats will make it hard for him to lead the Dems in ‘16.”
Activist liberal groups such as MoveOn.org, Credo and Democracy for America, which raise millions of dollars from the grassroots, are furious with Schumer.
“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,” Ilya Sheyman, MoveOn.org’s executive director, fumed.
In the Senate, however, Schumer has an enormous amount of good will from his colleagues. He built strong ties within the Democratic caucus after helping them win control of the Senate in 2006 and build a 60-vote supermajority in 2008 as a strategist and prolific fundraiser.
Even liberal senators who say Schumer is on the wrong side of the Iran debate are willing to give him a mulligan.
“I support Chuck for leader but I think he got this one wrong. That’s the way it goes. It’s a vote of conscience,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), who plans to vote against a resolution disapproving the deal.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen Jeanne ShaheenGOP senators: Brexit vote a wake-up call Overnight Defense: Senate rejects new FBI surveillance powers | Brexit vote looms | Push for new military aid deal with Israel Senators push vote to condemn Russia's 'reckless actions' MORE (D-N.H.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who supports the agreement, said Democratic senators will not hold Schumer’s position against him.
“This is a difficult and consequential vote that each of us has to weigh individually. While Sen. Schumer and I may disagree on how best to thwart the Iran nuclear program, we don’t question each other’s motives and I think that is true across the Democratic caucus,” she said in a statement.
Democrats also predict Schumer’s opposition won’t sway too many of his colleagues.
Schumer has said he will not lobby other Democrats against the deal, and in favor of a resolution of disapproval that Republicans plan to bring to the floor next month.
“Chuck has been a strong progressive for a really long time and he’s got the total support of our caucus but that’s different from us following what he does on such weighty matters in lockstep,” Schatz said. “This is a tough issue for everybody but he’s been a strong progressive and a great Democrat for many, many years.”
The resolution of disapproval would kill the deal — but only if it survives a promised veto from Obama. That would take two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate.
Schumer is the only Senate Democrat who is publicly against the deal so far, though many expect Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) to also vote against it.
Durbin — whose job as the second-ranking member of leadership was viewed as uncertain because of his rivalry with Schumer — has emerged as the primary driver of support for Obama’s Iran deal within the Senate Democratic caucus.
He has set up private meetings between wavering Democratic senators and senior administration officials and put together a 10-person whip team to address colleagues’ concerns over the agreement.
Eighteen Democratic senators are so far backing the deal, according to The Hill’s whip list.
Some of Schumer’s colleagues have come to his defense in the face of criticism from Team Obama and liberal groups.
Sen. Debbie StabenowDebbie StabenowClinton to headline fundraiser with Senate, House Democrats: report USDA extends comment period for 'certified organic' animal rule Lawmakers consider adding mental health bill to opioid conference MORE (D-Mich.), the vice chairwoman of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee and a close ally of Schumer's, said the criticisms from former White House officials are “unfortunate.”
“He’s very, very respectful of the members of our caucus. I think this has zero effect on him being a leader or an effective leader. And I think it’s very unfortunate to see the comments coming from people connected with the White House,” she said.
Stabenow, who is undecided on how to vote, said Schumer’s stance would not sway her.
“I think everyone understands the situation that Sen. Schumer is in and who he represents,” she said, referring to his large pro-Israel constituency in New York City. “People were not surprised. He’s a very thoughtful person. He also understands this is something everyone needs to grapple with in terms of their own conscience.”