2020 Dems rebuke Trump on Iran, say they'd put US back in nuclear deal

2020 Dems rebuke Trump on Iran, say they'd put US back in nuclear deal
© Greg Nash

Most of the Democrats running for president are vowing to put the United States back in the Iran nuclear deal that President TrumpDonald John Trump5 things to know about Boris Johnson Conservatives erupt in outrage against budget deal Trump says Omar will help him win Minnesota MORE withdrew from nearly a year ago.

“Our intelligence community told us again and again: The #IranDeal was working to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. If Iran continues to abide by the terms of the deal, you bet I will support returning to it,” Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenPoll: Biden leads 2020 Democratic field by 15 points, followed by Sanders and Warren Warren introduces bill to cancel student loan debt for millions Democrats, advocacy groups urge Pompeo to abolish new 'unalienable rights' commission MORE (D-Mass.) recently tweeted.

Warren, whose campaign pointed to the February tweet when contacted this month by The Hill, backed the Iran deal in a Senate vote like several of the other Democratic senators running for president.

Trump angered U.S. allies in Europe after he broke from the 2015 deal, arguing the pact endangered Israel and was poorly negotiated by the Obama administration. 

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“This was a horrible, one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made,” Trump said in announcing his decision in May 2018. Former President Obama, in a rare response to Trump, said his successor’s decision would make the world less safe and war more likely.

Hoping to further dial up pressure on Iran, Trump on Monday announced he will not renew sanctions waivers that allowed eight foreign governments to continue buying Iranian oil.

Trump and other opponents of the deal argued it fell short of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon because several provisions sunset and inspectors cannot demand to see some military sites. They also pilloried it for not addressing other troubling behavior such as Iranian support for terrorist groups. 

It’s not surprising that Democrats running for president would oppose Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Iran deal.

But the agreement itself was controversial, and Democrats were not united in backing it.

Four Senate Democrats — including Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOn The Money: Trump, Congress reach two-year budget, debt limit deal | What we know | Deal gets pushback from conservatives | Equifax to pay up to 0M in data breach settlement | Warren warns another 'crash' is coming Overnight Defense: Iran's spy claim adds to tensions with US | Trump, lawmakers get two-year budget deal | Trump claims he could win Afghan war in a week Trump, Democrats clinch two-year budget deal MORE (N.Y.) — broke with Obama over the deal when the Senate voted on a measure that would have rejected it.

Israel’s government was strongly opposed to the Iran deal, and Trump has signaled he intends to use his support for Israel as a wedge issue against any Democrat who runs against him next fall.

Still, while some Democrats are attaching qualifiers to their support for the deal, they all are indicating they’d seek to put the United States back into the agreement.

And they are casting Trump’s decision to withdraw as a textbook case of his penchant for isolationism that they argue is damaging to U.S. interests.

An aide to Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersPoll: Biden leads 2020 Democratic field by 15 points, followed by Sanders and Warren Warren introduces bill to cancel student loan debt for millions Democrats, advocacy groups urge Pompeo to abolish new 'unalienable rights' commission MORE (I-Vt.) told the news site Al-Monitor last month that the candidate would “rejoin” the Iran deal “and would also be prepared to talk to Iran on a range of other issues, which is what Trump should’ve done instead of simply walking away.”

Sanders, considered a front-runner for the Democratic nomination, like Warren backed the deal in a 2015 vote in the Senate.

A spokesman for Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisPoll: Biden leads 2020 Democratic field by 15 points, followed by Sanders and Warren Democrats, advocacy groups urge Pompeo to abolish new 'unalienable rights' commission Biden announces plan to counteract mass incarceration MORE (D-Calif.) told Al-Monitor she supports re-entering the deal “if the U.S. could verify Iran is not cheating.” Harris was not serving in the Senate when it voted on whether to block the deal from entering into force.

Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegPoll: Biden leads 2020 Democratic field by 15 points, followed by Sanders and Warren Biden announces plan to counteract mass incarceration Nashville radio host blocked by employer from airing his interview with Buttigieg MORE, the South Bend, Ind., mayor who is rising in Democratic presidential polls, would rejoin the deal, a spokeswoman told The Hill. Buttigieg, who would have the least experience with the deal of all the top candidates in the race, “sees it as a floor not a ceiling,” the aide said, suggesting he would like negotiations to expand the agreement.

A spokesman for former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) said he supports rejoining the deal. During his failed Senate campaign last year, O’Rourke said the deal was “imperfect,” but that it “demonstrably makes the world and especially the Middle East a safer place.”

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenPoll: Biden leads 2020 Democratic field by 15 points, followed by Sanders and Warren Booker takes swipe at Biden criminal justice reform plan Panel: Has Joe Biden been wrong on everything for 40 years? MORE, who has led a number of 2020 polls but has yet to enter the race, served in the administration that negotiated the deal. A spokesman did not respond to three requests for comment.

The other three senators in the race — Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBooker takes swipe at Biden criminal justice reform plan Democrats, advocacy groups urge Pompeo to abolish new 'unalienable rights' commission Biden announces plan to counteract mass incarceration MORE (D-N.J.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandDemocrats, advocacy groups urge Pompeo to abolish new 'unalienable rights' commission Harris, Nadler introduce bill to decriminalize marijuana Gillibrand says she doesn't regret calling for Franken to resign MORE (D-N.Y.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharDemocrats, advocacy groups urge Pompeo to abolish new 'unalienable rights' commission Equifax breach settlement sparks criticism The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump targets Mueller ahead of testimony MORE (D-Minn.) — all voted in favor of the deal. So did Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) John RyanDemocratic strategist predicts most 2020 candidates will drop out in late fall The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump hits media over 'send her back' coverage The Hill's Campaign Report: Second debate lineups set up high-profile clash MORE (D-Ohio).

During a stop at the University of Colorado in Boulder over the weekend, Klobuchar cited the Iran deal as she talked about getting back in step with U.S. allies.

“Joining in these international agreements, and climate change is one of them, but the other is getting back in the nuclear agreement with Iran and allies — that would be one example of that,” Klobuchar said.

The 2015 debate over whether to support the deal was heated, with pro-Israel lobbyists pushing hard against it and some high-ranking Democrats such as Schumer opposing it.

But things have changed since then, said Logan Bayroff, a spokesman for the progressive Jewish group J Street.

For starters, he said, international inspectors have repeatedly found Iran to be in compliance with key aspects of the agreement.

Second, Trump’s decision to withdraw can be framed by Democrats as one of several moves that have alienated allies and “pander to a far-right political base,” Bayroff said.

“We just think this is a clear slam-dunk policy position for a Democrat,” he said, citing a May 2018 Morning Consult survey that found 68 percent of Democrats supported the deal.

Experts say bringing the U.S. back into the deal could be done simply and with executive action, and that it would not require votes in Congress.

J Street has been pushing an online petition calling on Democratic candidates to support re-entering the deal, while highlighting on social media which ones have and have not voiced support.

Bayroff did not provide an exact tally for the petition, but said signatures are in the “thousands.”

He added that J Street has also met privately with campaigns to discuss the issue.

Several long-shot presidential candidates also said they would put the U.S. back in the deal, though a few raised caveats.

Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Moulton campaign makes formal case to DNC to be added to debate stage Bullock makes CNN debate stage MORE (D-Calif.) said he would “lead negotiations” with Iran and the deal’s other signatories to return the United States to the agreement.

“We have to hold Iran accountable for its funding of terrorism, its actions in Syria and Lebanon, and its threats to Israel and America. But more than anything else, we cannot allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon,” he said in a statement to The Hill.

The accord “dismantled Iran’s nuclear capabilities and allowed U.S. monitoring and verification,” he added. “Alienating ourselves from the world and acting alone accomplishes neither.”

A spokesman for Rep. Seth MoultonSeth Wilbur MoultonHouse lawmakers introduce bill to help those struggling with student debt Stanley McChrystal endorses Moulton for president 2020 Democrats react to 'send her back' chants at Trump rally MORE (D-Mass.) said he would rejoin the deal, directing The Hill to his congressional record. Moulton voted in support of the deal in 2015 and in 2018 said Trump's withdrawal "turns our back on our allies" and "makes the world more dangerous."

Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardPolitician targeted by Puerto Rican governor responds: 'This is an attack on all women' Puerto Ricans block major highway in protest of governor New CBS poll shows Biden with 7-point lead in New Hampshire MORE (D-Hawaii) told The Hill she would return to the deal, saying Trump's withdrawal "increases the likelihood of war and undermines talks with  Kim Jong UnKim Jong UnDemocrats, advocacy groups urge Pompeo to abolish new 'unalienable rights' commission Human rights: Trump's trump card against China and North Korea Trump and Pakistan's Khan are a lot alike — but can they master the art of any deals? MORE to denuclearize North Korea."

“While the Iran deal is far from perfect, Iran is in compliance and the deal is working by preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and preventing an all-out war,” she said in a statement.

A spokesman for former Rep. John DelaneyJohn Kevin DelaneyJulián Castro is behind in the polls, but he's finding a niche Democratic strategist predicts most 2020 candidates will drop out in late fall The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump hits media over 'send her back' coverage MORE (D-Md.) said he would “seek” to rejoin the deal, but added Delaney would “look to strengthen aspects of the deal as part of re-entering, including extending its duration.”

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro tweeted in March that “if Iran continues to comply with the terms of the agreement as determined by the intelligence community, I will re-enter the U.S. into the #JCPOA as President.”

A spokesman for Washington Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeNo more food fights: The case for issue-specific presidential primary debates Democratic strategist predicts most 2020 candidates will drop out in late fall The Hill's Campaign Report: Second debate lineups set up high-profile clash MORE told The Hill “he would return to the deal.”

Long-shot candidates Wayne MessamWayne Martin MessamMoulton campaign makes formal case to DNC to be added to debate stage Bullock makes CNN debate stage Top Democrats who could win presidential nomination MORE and Marianne WilliamsonMarianne WilliamsonDemocratic strategist predicts most 2020 candidates will drop out in late fall Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Judge upholds Trump expansion of non-ObamaCare plans | Williamson says she believes in vaccines | House committee to hold oversight hearing on Juul Williamson says she believes in vaccines, acknowledges 'self-inflicted wound' MORE are also on board, they said in comments to Al-Monitor and The Hill, respectively.

Other groups that have been pressing Democrats to take a position include the National Iranian American Council, which released a paper in November saying a return to the Iran deal should be “central to the foreign policy platform of those seeking to challenge Trump in 2020.”

The Democratic National Committee adopted a resolution in February calling on the U.S. to rejoin the agreement.

Experts say part of the reason Iran continues to follow the deal is because Tehran hopes Trump is a one-term president and that his successor rejoins the agreement.

But the Trump administration is putting increased pressure on Iran, most recently by ending the oil sanctions waivers. Trump also recently designated its Revolutionary Guard a “foreign terrorist organization.”

U.S. allies in Europe strongly opposed Trump’s decision to withdraw, and they have been scrambling to save the pact.

As a workaround to Trump's sanctions, the European Union set up mechanism to facilitate trade with Iran. But no transactions have gone through it, leading to mounting frustration from Tehran, said Barbara Slavin, director of the Atlantic Council’s Future of Iran Initiative.

“Clearly there are people in the administration and outside … who are trying to make it extremely difficult to return” to the deal, she said.

But Iran knows that if it leaves the deal it would be “falling into trap” set by the administration, Slavin said, adding that Trump’s withdrawal and Revolutionary Guard designation could likely be undone with executive action.

“I would expect that [returning to the deal] will be in the platform for the [Democratic National Convention], assuming Iran stays in the agreement,” she said. “Everything depends on Iran staying through the election. If it leaves the agreement, all bets are off.”