Iran battle heats up in Senate

 

President Obama and his allies are working overtime to kill a resolution disapproving the Iran nuclear deal in the Senate, in what would be a major victory for the White House. 

The measure, which is certain to be approved in September by the GOP-led House, needs 60 votes in the Senate to break a filibuster and reach Obama’s desk.

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If it gets to Obama, it will be vetoed, and it’s far from certain that opponents of the Iran deal will muster the two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate to override him.

But make no mistake. The White House doesn’t want the measure to get that far, and if it does, it will be a victory for Republicans.

Democratic aides in the Senate predict they will be able to hold their ranks, but people on both sides of the fight say it will be a close call.

With Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerGun-control supporters plan next steps versus NRA This week: Senate showdown over gun control Dems push vulnerable GOP senators on gun control MORE (D-N.Y.), the Democratic leader-in-waiting backing the disapproval measure, aides say opponents likely need just four or five additional no votes to win the day.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinSenate Dems link court fight to Congressional Baseball Game Dems: Immigration decision will 'energize' Hispanic voters Senate Dems rip GOP on immigration ruling MORE (Ill.), who is leading the push to round up votes to block the resolution, won’t predict an outcome.

“It’s unrealistic that we would win a majority,” he said in an interview. “At this point, I’m not getting any numbers out but we’re working with all members and the response has been positive.”

While Schumer’s opposition to the deal was a blow, Sens. Jon Tester (Mont.) and Al Franken (Minn.) came out in favor of the agreement on Thursday, swelling the number of Senate supporters to 19.

“The momentum is with the deal right now. The opponents have not been able to describe what is the better alternative. The opponents can get to 56. I don’t know if they get to 60,” said one senior Democratic aide.

“Most people are pretty confident that he’ll still hang on,” said a second staffer. 

Still, there are some Senate Democrats who have not backed Obama’s deal yet, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and another member of his leadership team, Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.).

Obama hopes to win over Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), but there’s no guarantee any Republican will back the deal.

Many expect Sen. Bob MenendezRobert MenendezOvernight Cybersecurity: Senate narrowly rejects expanding FBI surveillance powers Senate narrowly rejects new FBI surveillance Kaine, Murphy push extension of Iran sanctions MORE (D-N.J.), the former chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, to vote for the resolution of disapproval.

Menendez has been critical of the deal in a series of public comments, though in an interview with The Hill on Thursday he said that speculation he is definitely a “no” is unfounded.

“I always marvel that everybody looks at my questions at hearings and the nature of my questioning, which comes from a lot of time as a lawyer and 23 years of hearings,” he said. “The purpose of the hearing is not to say I checked in, the purpose is to get all of the facts.”  

Menendez, who says he will announce his decision next week, has secluded himself during the first week of the August recess to reread the agreement and review congressional testimony.

“I had a box sent to me from my Washington office that I had packed, full of testimony that I wanted to read through carefully,” he said.

The other Democrats considered most in play are Sen. Ben Cardin (Md.), the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations panel, who has strong relationship with The American Israel Political Action Committee, and Sen. Michael Bennet (Colo.), the most vulnerable Democrat facing reelection next year.

Secure America Now, a self-described nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to national security issues, has organized a multistate lobbying effort targeted at wavering Democrats.

This week they've organized nearly 1,000 Coloradans to call Bennet and 700 in Maryland to call Cardin, urging them to disapprove the deal. Three thousand people have emailed Cardin’s staff as part of the effort.

Opponents are targeting Flake, and Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) with similar campaigns. 

Democratic aides predict Reid and Murray will ultimately back Obama’s deal.

“I just have to work through some of my personal issues, because when it all boils down to it, it's a question of conviction. It's not a political calculus for me anymore,” Reid told the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Wednesday.

Murray will announce her stance toward the end of the August recess, according to Durbin, who has discussed it with her.

There is a growing sense among Democrats that even though the deal raises concerns, by giving Iran 24 days to make a site available for inspection among other concessions, it’s too late to back out now.

Patrick Clawson, the director of research at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, predicted Democrats on the fence will vote for it with the rationale, “Now that we negotiated it, we’re stuck with it.”

“A fair number of people are considering voting yes but holding their nose. They’re not enthusiastic for it,” he said. 

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said he has spoken to several fellow Democratic senators who are on the fence.

He believes they will support Obama at the end of the day because the opponents have not proposed a credible alternative.

“There are a number of folks who are genuinely undecided. If you take a deep breath and set the politics aside for a moment, you see that Democratic and Republican foreign policy thinkers are overwhelmingly in support of this agreement with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

“If you are going to support diplomacy at all, this is the type of outcome you would hope for,” he said.