Senate

Obama hits 41, cements Iran victory

President Obama cleared a significant political hurdle Tuesday when several undecided Democrats came out in favor of the Iran nuclear deal, giving him enough votes to block a Senate resolution of disapproval.

Three of the five remaining swing votes, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Gary Peters (Mich.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.), announced their support for the accord in a flurry of near-simultaneous press releases on Tuesday morning, increasing the number of pro-deal Democrats to 41.

{mosads}The senators released their statements of support after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), became the fourth member of his caucus to announce his opposition to the deal. Sen. Maria Cantwell (Wash.), the last undecided Senate Democrat, announced her support for the measure late Tuesday, becoming the 42nd vote against the resolution of disapproval.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) now has the votes to support a filibuster blocking a Republican-backed resolution to disapprove the deal, which would lift sanctions on Iran in exchange for limits on its nuclear program. He predicted the deal would survive congressional scrutiny, citing support from an “overwhelming majority” of his caucus.

“This agreement will stand. America will uphold its commitment, and we will seize this opportunity to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon,” Reid said in a speech to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Obama had already secured enough votes to sustain a veto of the resolution, but Tuesday’s developments gave him an important political victory.

After months of debate — including Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu’s denunciation of Obama’s talks with Iran in an address to Congress — the Iran deal’s opponents lack the votes to get the motion of disapproval out of the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) still hopes to score political points by casting Democrats as avoiding a vote on the substance of the deal.

He argued the deal should get an up-or-down vote, warning Democrats against hiding behind a filibuster, which would require 60 votes to overcome.

“I expect that every senator who voted for that measure is now entitled to an up-or-down vote — not a filibuster or artificial limits on passage, but an important vote — on this resolution,” McConnell said. “The Senate should not hide behind procedural obfuscation to shield the president or our individual views.”

Reid has pressed McConnell to allow an up-or-down Senate vote that would require the Iran resolution to win 60 votes for passage, something he said has become common.

“Everything of importance in the Senate requires 60 votes. So passage will require 60 votes,” he said.

The dueling comments on the Senate floor suggested no deal is in the works and that McConnell will force Democrats to filibuster to avoid an Obama veto.

“Reid is looking for a way not to go through a cloture vote because he’s doesn’t want to filibuster the Iran deal. We don’t want to make it easier for Democrats to defeat [the disapproval resolution,]” said Don Stewart, McConnell’s spokesman.

Only four Senate Democrats have announced their opposition to the agreement: Sens. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Bob Menendez (N.J.), Ben Cardin (Md.) and Manchin.

Senate Republican aides, however, question whether all 42 Democrats would vote to end the filibuster. They pointed to centrist Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) as possible allies on the procedural motion.

Coons said earlier this month “it would be really regrettable” if lawmakers did not have a chance to vote on the resolution of disapproval directly because of a filibuster.

He declined Tuesday to reveal his stance on the procedural question and instead voiced hope that Reid and McConnell would reach an agreement.

“Sen. Coons hopes that it will proceed in such a way that the Senate has ample opportunity to conclude debate on this important deal and allow each senator to make their individual position clear,” said spokesman Sean Coit.

A Senate Democratic aide said Warner would discuss the floor procedure with colleagues at a lunch meeting Wednesday.

“He’s going to wait and see how it goes in caucus tomorrow before he makes a decision,” the aide said.

Republicans may seek to add political pain to the vote by scheduling it for Friday — the 14th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“Ironic that Congress may vote on Iran nuke deal on 9/11,” Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) tweeted.

House Republican leaders plan to vote on their own disapproval resolution this week.

Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) wants to delay the vote, arguing the 60-day congressional review period mandated by law is not in effect because the administration failed to deliver paperwork needed to trigger the clock.

Roskam, who serves as co-chair of the House Republican Israel Caucus, wants to force a floor vote this week that would cancel the House vote on the deal unless the White House releases the text of the “side deals” between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency regarding nuclear inspections.

Senate GOP aides, however, dismissed the prospect of delaying a vote in the upper chamber.

The votes on the Iran deal followed an intense month of lobbying in August. Groups opposed to the deal blanketed television airwaves with advertisements warning the agreement would not stem Iran’s support for terrorism.

Supporters of the deal argued that other trading partners would not reinstate sanctions and that the deal was the best way to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, after a rare invitation from Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), appeared to backfire. The vote quickly became a partisan issue, and many Democrats were offended by Netanyahu’s comments, which came amid his own reelection bid.

Still, the last few Democrats who announced their support for the deal on Tuesday suggested it was not an easy decision.

Peters argued that it was not realistic to expect the United States and its five partner nations to negotiate a stronger accord.

“Despite my serious concerns with this agreement, I have unfortunately become convinced that we are faced with no viable alternative,” the freshman senator said in a statement. “I have met with representatives for each of our negotiating partners, whom have all stated that they will not return to the negotiating table if Congress rejects this deal.”


Cristina Marcos contributed. 

This story was updated at 6:09 p.m. 

Tags Ben Cardin Bob Menendez Boehner Charles Schumer Chris Coons Harry Reid Joe Manchin John Boehner John Cornyn Maria Cantwell Mark Warner Mitch McConnell Richard Blumenthal Ron Wyden
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