Levin joins Iran-deal backers in win for Obama

Levin joins Iran-deal backers in win for Obama
© Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor

In a victory for the White House, Rep. Sandy Levin, one of the most prominent Jewish Democrats in Congress, announced Tuesday he will support the Iran nuclear agreement. 

The Michigan Democrat said the agreement, which curbs Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, will make Israel and the broader Middle East more secure.

“I believe that Israel, the region, and the world are far more secure if Iran does not move toward possession of a nuclear weapon,” he wrote. “I believe the agreement is the best way to achieve that.”

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Levin’s support came on the same day members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee grilled three Obama cabinet secretaries over the agreement. 

Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and the panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Eliot Engel (N.Y.), were both critical of the deal, underscoring the administration’s challenge in winning congressional support. 

Engel expressed concern about how Tehran will behave after sanctions are phased out. 

"My fundamental concern is that 15 years from now, Iran will be off the hook," he said at the hearing Tuesday. 

Facing unified opposition from Republicans in Congress, President Obama is looking to House Democrats to help sink a resolution of disapproval against the deal later this year, or sustain a presidential veto if one passes. 

The White House is lobbying House Democrats heavily, even bringing some into the Situation Room to review classified details of the agreement. 

Having Levin come off the sidelines could prove critical in that effort. As the longest-serving Jewish member of Congress, he could help give cover to other Jewish lawmakers under heavy pressure to oppose the deal to instead come out in favor.  

Greg Rosenbaum, chair of the National Jewish Democratic Council’s board of directors, said the fight is far from over but called Levin’s endorsement “particularly impressive.”

“It shows other members of the House that might be undecided that they can stand up and do the right thing,” Rosenbaum said in a statement to The Hill.

While Levin has a reputation as a team player in the Democratic caucus, he was not one of 150 House Democrats who signed a letter backing the Iran negotiations back in May. 

He is a staunch supporter of Israel, and his district contains a number of Detroit suburbs with significant Jewish populations.

Critics of the deal, however, expressed doubt Levin’s endorsement would sway many votes. 

"'Big get?' Never in doubt, not on any of the serious lists of those who might really be gettable,” tweeted Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard

This story was updated at 3:40 p.m.