Vice President Biden stormed the Capitol Wednesday to pitch the Obama administration's Iranian nuclear deal to House Democrats, who appear to be lining up behind the agreement.
The support of the minority Democrats could prove vital. With Republicans vowing to disapprove of the Iran agreement, the fate of the deal could hinge on the number of Democrats willing to sustain a veto from President Obama.
"I think we're going to be OK," Biden said, with Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) by his side.
Reached Monday night, the landmark deal aims to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons in exchange for the gradual removal of international trade sanctions. The pact culminates years of often-tense negotiations between Iran, the United States and five other world powers, including Russia and China.
GOP leaders have panned the agreement as a giveaway to the Iranians that will threaten the security of Israel and the West.
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) warned the pact would lead to a new nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the majority whip, vowed to sink the deal within Congress's 60-day window to act.
Most Democrats have a decidedly different view, and among those participating in Wednesday's meeting with Biden, a large number said they're either supporting the agreement or are leaning that way.
"Let me tell you, it's pretty ballsy what they've done in view of the world situation at this particular time," said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.). "I think that it needs a good airing [and] we'll do it. … I'm leaning toward yes."
Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) was more definitive, saying he's already decided to back the deal.
"Oh, yeah. Give peace a chance," Clyburn said.
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) emphasized that many concerns remain — "there's a lot of questions that need to be resolved," he said — but added, "I'm inclined to support it."
The Democrats said Biden went deep into the weeds to address a long list of specific policy concerns, including questions about the spontaneity of Iranian nuclear inspections, the timeline for lifting sanctions and the details surrounding Iran's new freedoms to sell weapons abroad if it meets its nuclear promises.
"He was very thorough, answered questions that nobody even asked," said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.). "Frankly, people were joking about it, but he went down to the minute details.
"This guy, I don't know, he must not have gone to bed last night."
Cleaver said he's ready to back the deal unless new details emerge that convince him otherwise.
Asked if that's the overwhelming sense of the caucus, Cleaver said: "That's what I think, yeah."
"They sent the right guy over," he added.
The support from House Democrats is hardly unanimous. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) is one vocal critic of the deal, saying it doesn't do enough to prevent Iran from building a weapon a decade from now.
"In 10 years — some would argue 12 — Iran will be able to have an industrial-sized facility," Sherman said. "The amount of enriched uranium needed to make a bomb is a tiny portion of what is generated in a peaceful, or an allegedly peaceful, plant that generates enough fuel to illuminate a city."
But even Sherman was quick to distinguish between the various possible iterations of an Iran vote on the floor, clarifying that while he would oppose a straight vote of approval for the deal — if one were to come up — he remains undecided on votes to disapprove the agreement or override a presidential veto.
"Those are three different votes," Sherman said.
Still, other Democrats remain on the fence. Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Adam SchiffAdam SchiffDems knock Trump on Earth Day Five questions for the House's new Russia investigator Schiff: Trump breaking Iran deal ‘a grave mistake’ MORE (D-Calif.) and Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said they're still weighing their support.
"It's not just a matter of studying the document, it's really having a chance to talk to experts about how these provisions will be interpreted and applied as a practical matter," Schiff said.
He said a major concern among Democrats is a provision lifting the embargo on Iranian weapon sales abroad.
"I think it took many people by surprise," Schiff said, "and as a non-nuclear sanction we would have liked to have seen that maintained in force."
Lowey also voiced strong concerns, suggesting she wants clear assurances that Iran couldn't use the proceeds of expanded trade to fund terrorist groups.
"I know how hard Secretary [John] Kerry worked and I certainly respect his expertise and that of the vice president," she said. "However, I am concerned about the impact, especially about the ballistic missile sales and the armament sales and what Iran would do flush with money when the sanctions are lifted."
All sides of the Democratic debate praised the administration for taking near-immediate steps to address the concerns of lawmakers. Some suggested the White House has taken a lesson from the recent trade debate, through which Democrats hammered the administration for what they deemed a lack of transparency.
"You make friends before you need them. I think the administration is doing it very wisely," said Pascrell, who's urging both Obama and Biden to meet with GOP lawmakers, too. "I disagreed with them on trade. On this, I think they're heading in the right direction."
Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerry ConnollyBudget woes hinder US cybersecurity buildup Our IT system is dying: Here’s how President Trump can save it What Democrats want in shutdown fight MORE (D-Va.) suggested Biden's briefing was already paying dividends in terms of building Democratic support.
"The bottom line is [the briefing was] very reassuring," said Connolly, who's leaning towards supporting the deal. "You could see heads shaking, and you could see people who had some doubts experience some clarity and reassurance."
Nadler said Biden didn't mention the key role the minority Democrats could play in securing the deal in the face of GOP opposition, but he didn't have to.
"It's implicit that the fate of the deal lies with either the Senate or House Democrats, or both," Nadler said. "He didn't have to explain that."
Sherman said he expects the administration's outreach will continue throughout the 60-day window, the goal being to maximize congressional backing to add momentum and legitimacy to the agreement.
"The administration's job is to inform Congress. I think they'll do their job, and I think even if they thought they had a veto-proof core that would vote their way, they'd like that core to be larger," Sherman said.
"I can't imagine that the White House would say, 'Well, we have enough votes, we don't care to get any more,'" he added. "You always want to win by a larger margin, make a stronger statement, popularize the deal with the American public and the American Congress."