14 Senate Democrats to watch on Iran nuclear bargain

If President Obama can secure a final nuclear deal with Iran next week, attention will immediately turn to Congress — which can vote to disapprove of the agreement.

The White House conceded to legislation earlier this year that gives Congress the power to review any deal with Iran. Lawmakers will have 30 days to carry it out if an agreement is sent to Capitol Hill by July 9. If it’s later, the review timeframe will double.

{mosads}Obama agreed to the review under pressure from Democrats, who have been torn during the Iran talks between the White House and Israel, which strongly opposes the negotiations.

A measure disapproving the deal could torpedo the pact, but would have to overcome a certain veto from the White House.

That’s unlikely — particularly in the House, where Republicans are likely to have a harder time winning the two-thirds majority needed to override Obama.

In the Senate, the vote could be close. And Democratic opposition to the deal would be politically troublesome for the White House.

Here are the 14 Democrats to watch.

Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.) 

The former ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee has pressed for a deal that would allow sanctions to be put back in place quickly if Iran violates its terms.

He co-sponsored legislation with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) earlier this year to impose new sanctions on Iran if negotiators failed to reach a deal by June 30. The administration gave Iran some sanctions relief at the start of 2014 under an interim agreement.

Menendez recently expressed concern over the direction of the talks.

“The trend lines of the Iran talks are deeply worrying, our red lines have turned to green lights,” he said.

Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.) 

Schumer, an ally of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which has been skeptical of Obama’s Iran policy, co-sponsored the Kirk-Menendez Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act — along with Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.). He also voted in the Banking Committee for the bill.

He signed a letter in January spearheaded by Menendez warning the administration that moderate Democrats would wait only until March 24 before joining with Republicans to advance legislation giving Congress oversight of an Iran deal. The administration at the time staunchly opposed such legislation.  

In April he said, “I strongly believe Congress should have the right to disapprove any agreement.”

Sen. Gary Peters (Mich.) 

Peters co-sponsored the Kirk-Menendez bill and signed the Menendez letter setting the March 24 date for congressional action.

He called for a tougher negotiating approach after the timeline for talks between Iran, the U.S. and four other parties, known as the P5+1, was extended.

“[T]he recent extension of the P5+1 negotiations demonstrates that even tougher sanctions are needed to provide the necessary leverage to ensure Iran abandons its pursuit of nuclear weapons,” Peters said.

Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) 

Blumenthal was the target last month of a $1.4 million ad launched by the American Security Initiative pressing senators to oppose any deal failing to provide for unconditional inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities.

He co-sponsored the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act and signed the letter giving Obama a two-month grace period before congressional action on sanctions legislation.

Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) 

Manchin co-sponsored the Kirk-Menendez bill and signed the Menendez letter setting the March 24 start date for congressional action.

“I signed a letter with Bob Menendez and other senators, basically saying, let’s see how far you have progressed on the end of March, if we have a deal in the making. And then, at the end of June, if we don’t have a deal at hand, we will double down on sanctions,” Manchin said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” in March.

Sen. Joe Donnelly (Ind.) 

Donnelly co-sponsored the Kirk-Menendez bill slapping new sanctions on Iran if negotiators fail to reach a deal by June 30, the original deadline for a final agreement. He also voted for it in the Banking Committee in January.

He also signed the Menendez letter setting the early timeline for talks.

Bob Casey (Pa.) 

Casey co-sponsored Kirk-Menendez and signed the January Menendez letter.

He expressed concern during a Bloomberg News breakfast at the beginning of the year that Iran had improved its international standing as a result of the talks.

“The Iranian regime is scoring points,” he said. “They frankly look better than they did a few months ago because they’ve been engaged in negotiations and dialogue.”

Jon Tester (Mont.)

Tester voted for Kirk-Menendez in the Banking Committee.

He called for tougher restrictions on Iran during a 2011 Senate hearing after it was revealed Iran plotted with a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, according to a press release from Tester’s office. 

Tester has touted his support for sanctions he believes brought Iran to the negotiating table.

Mark Warner (Va.) 

Warner voted for Kirk-Menendez in the Banking Committee.

In a November press release, he laid out the terms he wants Iran to meet. He called for the dismantling of Iran’s “illegal nuclear weapons program;” the implementation of “intrusive, any-time inspections” of all Iranian facilities; a phased-in sanctions relief; and congressional review of any final deal.

Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) 

Heitkamp voted for Kirk-Menendez in the Banking Committee and has insisted on verifying Iranian compliance before lifting sanctions

“Iran cannot receive relief from sanctions until it shows it is taking verifiable steps to prevent the development of a nuclear weapon within its borders,” she said in a recent statement.

Ben Cardin (Md.) 

Cardin, the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations panel, signed the Menendez letter in January warning the administration he might support sanctions legislation.

He played an instrumental role in negotiating a compromise between Obama and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) on legislation empowering Congress to review a final nuclear deal. The administration initially opposed the bill but switched course because of the changes Cardin helped broker.

Cardin says lawmakers should not prejudge the outcome of the talks.

Chris Coons (Del.) 

Coons, a member of the Foreign Relations panel, signed the Menendez letter.

In a statement last year, he called for an Iran deal to set some of the same conditions McConnell called for this past week.

“I believe that no deal is better than a bad deal,” Coons said in November.

He said Iran must fully submit to intrusive inspections of its nuclear program, fully disclose past military work and dismantle any capacity to develop nuclear weapons in the future, according to his statement.

He also said that sanctions should be lifted only if Iran shows full compliance and should be reinstated swiftly in case of any breech.

Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) 

Stabenow is a close ally of Schumer and may take her lead from him. She signed the Menendez letter.

She, however, has also fought back against GOP efforts to undermine the talks. She proposed a deficit-neutral reserve funding during the budget debate to stop taxpayer funding of congressional letters to the government of Iran after Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) sent one such missive earlier this year.

Michael Bennet (Colo.) 

Bennet was an early supporter of legislation empowering Congress to review a final deal with Iran.

He was also a target of the American Security Initiative’s $1.4 million advertising campaign and is up for reelection next year.

Bennet has promised to local press not to undercut Obama or any diplomatic understanding with Iran.

“The details really matter here. This is not a time for politics,” he told the Colorado Independent.  

Tags Barack Obama Bob Menendez Charles Schumer Heidi Heitkamp Iran Iran nuclear talks Jon Tester Mark Warner

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