Dems hear echoes of Iraq in Iran debate

Dems hear echoes of Iraq in Iran debate
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Some Democrats feel like the debate over the Iran nuclear deal is the Iraq war all over again.

As Congress mulls whether or not to endorse the landmark international accord, liberal lawmakers and activists are hearing echoes of the 2002 vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq.

Like that vote — which Iraq war opponents still hold up as a time they stood tall against political pressure — Democrats feel pushed to take a hard vote and deliver what could be a politically unpopular opinion.

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“This reminds me of the Iraq war moment in October of 2002, when members were asked to vote whether we should support military action in Iraq,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said at a press conference this week. Schakowsky has been counting votes to support the White House on Iran.

“Sixty percent of Democrats actually voted against the Iraq war, and they are proud today to say that they did this,” she added. “I believe anyone who supports diplomacy over war will be proud of that deal for the rest of their career and their life.”

And President Obama is also reminding Democrats of the Iraq war to drum up liberal support for the Iran deal in the face of overwhelming GOP criticism. Though he was not a senator then, Obama’s opposition to the war gave him a leg up over Hillary Clinton in the 2008 race.

Opposition to the deal, he said in a phone call with liberal activists on Thursday evening, is coming “from the same columnists and former administration officials that were responsible for us getting into the Iraq war.”

In 2003, 127 House Democrats joined just six Republicans to vote against the invasion of Iraq. Eighty-one Democrats joined 215 Republicans to support it. In the Senate, a narrow majority of Democrats supported the invasion, though 22 came out to oppose it.

At the time, it was an unpopular position. The U.S. had recently gone through the trauma of Sept. 11, 2001, and the George W. Bush administration was eager to launch a military campaign against a nation it claimed possessed weapons of mass destruction. That claim later turned out to be false.

A Gallup poll conducted shortly before the Oct. 10 and 11 votes in 2003 showed that the American public clearly supported sending in ground troops to remove Saddam Hussein, 53-40.

Now, Democratic supporters of the Iran deal similarly face troubling poll numbers.

A CNN/ORC poll released this week found that 52 percent of Americans want Congress to reject the Iran agreement, compared with just 44 percent who want it approved.

Feelings are only likely to intensify over the coming weeks, as lawmakers return home for the five-week recess and are confronted with multi-million dollar ad campaigns and vigorous lobbying on both sides of the issue.

Democrats are especially important this time. Republicans are expected to unite to kill the agreement during a vote in mid-September, teeing up a White House veto. At that point, the question is whether 13 Democrats in the Senate and 44 in the House break with Obama to override his veto.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) this week assured reporters that members of her caucus would be there to get the president’s back.

Supporters of the Iran deal see comparisons with Iraq as a helpful talking point.

“I think it’s fair to say this is a vote of conscience as that one was,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), an early supporter of the Iran deal and an opponent of the invasion in Iraq.

Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), maintains that he’s undecided about Iran, but said that there’s “absolutely” a connection between the two votes.

“You want to be on the right side,” Meeks — who opposed the invasion in Iraq — told The Hill this week, after a closed-door briefing on the Iran deal in the Capitol.

“I’ve got to be able ultimately not to make a political vote, but a vote that when I sleep at night, I can sleep and hope and pray that it is the right decision down the road.

“I’m proud of that vote” against the war in Iraq, Meeks added. “It was the right vote.

“It wasn’t the right vote then, politically, for others and that’s why I want to make sure right now... that I’m making the right vote — not a political vote — that stands the test of time [so that] five, 10, 15 years from now, Greg Meeks made the right vote on this issue.”

During personal meetings with congressional Democrats, Obama has stressed a similar message, attendees have said: Make this a vote one of conscience, not of politics.

Some Democrats questioned by The Hill dismissed comparisons between the two issues.

“I don’t see the analogy with the war in Iraq,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Among the differences, this time Democrats have the leader of their own party in the White House. And given the high hurdles for overriding the veto, Democrats supporting the deal will likely be casting more than just a symbolic vote.

But it’s clear that the White House sees the Iraq comparison as a winning line to shore up support.

During a private meeting with Obama this week, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) — another undecided vote on the Iran deal — made a point of bringing up his opposition to the war in Iraq.

“I told the president that I was going to decide this analytically — I told him that I was going to try to resist all pressure,” Nadler told reporters after the Wednesday meeting.

“I was in the small minority in my area in voting against the war in Iraq,” he added. “I took a lot of political heat for it but I thought I was doing the right thing, and I’m going to do what I think is the right thing [on this vote, too]. I’m not sure what that is yet.”

Obama’s response, according to Nadler: “Yeah, you were right! Glad you voted that way!”