Blumenthal is key holdout on Iran

Richard BlumenthalRichard BlumenthalDems press ITT Tech to give students right to sue Senate amendments could sink email privacy compromise Groups urge Senate to oppose defense language on for-profit colleges MORE is considered one of the Senate’s most liberal Democrats, but the Connecticut lawmaker is wavering on the nuclear deal with Iran.

As most undecided Senate Democrats fall in line behind President Obama to support the deal, Blumenthal is staying mum.

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“I’m still undecided, but I hope to reach a decision some time in the next week or so,” he told The Hill in a phone interview Tuesday.

Blumenthal is in a tough spot, caught between opponents of the deal such as former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and backers that include the White House and every other member of the Connecticut delegation. 

Adding to the pressure, conservative talk show host Larry Kudlow pledged over the weekend to run against Blumenthal next year if the senator votes to uphold the agreement, which would lift sanctions on Iran in exchange for limits on its nuclear program.

“I’m making this decision independently, without regard to the numbers or the politics,” Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal is one of the most closely watched Democrats who have yet to take a stance on the Iran deal. Other senators who are on the fence include Sens. Ben CardinBen CardinSenate GOP ties Iran sanctions fight to defense bill Lawmakers push to elevate Cyber Command in Senate defense bill Baltimore police officer cleared in Freddie Gray case MORE (D-Md.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ron WydenRon WydenPuerto Rico debt relief faces serious challenges in Senate Senate panel delays email privacy vote amid concerns Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns MORE (D-Ore.) and Michael BennetMichael BennetGOP Senate hopeful wants to go beyond Trump's Muslim ban Lawmakers push to elevate Cyber Command in Senate defense bill GOP ad calls Clinton 'a living history of scandal' MORE (D-Colo.).

Senate Democrats supporting the nuclear deal with Iran need just one of the 11 undecided lawmakers to side with them to ensure that Obama can sustain a veto of any legislation rejecting the deal.

Blumenthal told The Hill there are “a number of downsides” to the nuclear deal, including the billions of dollars that will flow to Iran. He also mentioned the potentially cumbersome mechanism for conducting inspections and “the potential for nuclear weaponization at the end of 10 or 15 years.”

“The question for the nation is whether there’s a better agreement or an alternative to this one,” he added.

Still, Blumenthal acknowledged that the numbers would likely be there to uphold Obama’s veto, regardless of his vote.

“There probably will be enough votes to sustain a presidential veto and the real challenge will be how to overcome those defects or weaknesses in implementing [the deal],” Blumenthal said.

“I am focusing not only on the agreement, but on how to improve and enhance it through effective enforcement and verification, because there can be no reliance on trust or hope — trust in the Iranian government or hope that the regime will change,” he added.

So far, only Sens. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerPuerto Rico debt relief faces serious challenges in Senate Overnight Healthcare: House, Senate on collision course over Zika funding Ryan goes all-in on Puerto Rico MORE (D-N.Y.) and Bob MenendezRobert MenendezDems pressure Obama on vow to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees Lobbying World This week: GOP lawmakers reckon with Trump MORE (D-N.J.) have announced that they plan on joining Republicans and voting to reject the deal.

Blumenthal faces a dilemma similar to the one facing Schumer, who is from neighboring New York.

“The pressures are probably similar to those weighing on Chuck SchumerCharles SchumerPuerto Rico debt relief faces serious challenges in Senate Overnight Healthcare: House, Senate on collision course over Zika funding Ryan goes all-in on Puerto Rico MORE, only somewhat less,” said Ronald Schurin, a political science professor at the University of Connecticut.

“Connecticut has a significant though not huge Jewish population, and as you know, the Jewish community has been very divided about this [deal],” he added. “On the other hand, Blumenthal is a senator from a state with a strong peace movement. … And this is a state that is left-leaning on foreign policy generally.

“So he has those conflicting pressures.”

Fellow Connecticut Democrat Sen. Chris MurphyChris MurphyOvernight Healthcare: Momentum on mental health? | Zika bills head to conference | Only 10 ObamaCare co-ops left Senators hope for deal soon on mental health bill Overnight Healthcare: IRS doubted legality of ObamaCare payments, ex-official says MORE has endorsed the Iran agreement, as have the state’s five House lawmakers, all Democrats.

That fact that Lieberman — the Democratic Party’s nominee for vice president in 2000 — is now leading a group against the deal, United Against Nuclear Iran, is sure to weigh on Blumenthal. He declined to say whether he had spoken with Lieberman.

Advocates on both sides have been making their voices heard in Blumenthal’s state.

Citizens for Nuclear Free Iran, an organization linked to the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has run advertisements opposing the deal on TV stations in Hartford and New Britain, according to the Hartford Courant.

J Street, which supports the deal, has attempted to counter that with its own ads. Activists aiming to protect the deal have also been staging a series of rallies and phone campaigns.

“He’s going to be swayed by the political pressure that’s put on him, which is why we’re continuing to work on getting people to call him who support the agreement,” said Henry Lowendorf, a peace activist and co-chairman of the Greater New Haven Peace Council, who has met twice with Blumenthal on the issue.

The announcement Saturday from Kudlow, who has considered running for Senate in the past, added another wrinkle to the debate. 

“If Sen. Richard Blumenthal votes with Obama on Iran, I’m going to run against him,” the former CNBC host said in a fiery segment on his radio show.

Kudlow would face long odds in the race. Connecticut is an overwhelmingly Democratic state, and Blumenthal easily bested former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon in 2010.

“It’s a long shot,” Kudlow said. “But I’m so angry at this issue, among others.”