Wins in Senate, defections in the House for Obama on Iran

Wins in Senate, defections in the House for Obama on Iran
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The White House won three key Senate votes in favor of the Iran nuclear deal on Tuesday, even as it lost three votes in the House.

Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) all said they would back the deal, strengthening the bulwark the White House is seeking to build in the Senate to stop a measure to kill the deal.

Republicans on Tuesday said they intend to move forward next month with a measure to disapprove of the Iran deal, which lifts sanctions on Tehran in exchange for concessions on its nuclear program.


The GOP looks primed for a victory in the House, but it is unclear whether they can win the 60 votes necessary in the Senate to overcome an expected Democratic filibuster.

In the House, the White House’s calculus grew more complicated on Tuesday as three key Jewish Democratic lawmakers said they would vote to kill the deal. 

Reps. Nita Lowey (N.Y.), Ted Deutch (Fla.) and Steve Israel (N.Y.) — a former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — all said they would oppose the deal despite the heavy pressure from President Obama.

“I’m going to vote against the Iran deal,” Israel, the highest-ranking Jewish House Democrat, told Newsday.  “I tried very had to get to yes. But at the end of the day, despite some positive elements in the deal, the totality compelled me to oppose it.

“I concluded that like everything else in the world the deal is not as bad as some say, but it’s just not good enough to get my support,” he added.

The objections from Israel and the other two House Democrats reflect unrest with the deal among Jewish Democrats in New York — and raises questions about whether incoming Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) will back it.

 The consequences of his vote could be tremendous. 

“Schumer I think brings six to 10 votes with him,” said one senior official with a pro-Israel organization involved with the fight. “If he votes for the deal, he provides cover for other on-the-fence senators.”

“Schumer, if he has made up his mind, isn’t telling anyone where he is,” a separate lobbyist working on the issue said. “I don’t think he is on the cusp of coming out against it. I think he is going to take a few more weeks to either make up his mind or roll out whatever decision he has made.”

 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu kept up his pressure campaign against the agreement on Tuesday, saying in an online address organized by Jewish Federations across North America that the deal “paves Iran’s path to the bomb.”

“Don’t let the world’s foremost terrorist regime get its hands on the worst, most dangerous weapons,” Netanyahu said. “Oppose this bad deal.”

Later in the afternoon, President Obama met with Jewish community leaders at the White House to sell them on the opposite message.

Nelson’s commitment appeared to offer a counterargument to the deal’s opponents and was seen as significant given his state’s large Jewish population.

“Without this deal, Iran’s breakout time [to build a nuclear weapon] could quickly, quickly shrink from months to a handful of weeks or days,” he said on the Senate floor. “Unless there is an unexpected change, I will support the nuclear agreement.” 

The White House’s urgent lobbying of congressional lawmakers appeared to be coming to a close this week, as the Senate looked ahead to a five-week August recess. The House has been out since last week.

When they return, lawmakers will move quickly to the Iran deal.

The House is expected to vote first on a resolution of disapproval of the agreement, which House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) unveiled on Tuesday.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement: “If members determine this deal does not make our country safer, they will have an opportunity to vote for this resolution when we return in September.”

That House vote — which is sure to pass — will put pressure on the Senate to back the deal. If Democrats fail to filibuster the measure, President Obama will veto it.

That will set up a fight over whether Democrats can sustain his veto.

If Republicans vote in a bloc, they would need 13 Senate Democrats and 44 in the House to overturn the president’s veto.

In addition to the three senators, Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.) — a member of the House Intelligence Committee — offered his support for the deal on Tuesday.

“For our national security and international stability, it is critical that we accept the agreement,” he said in a statement.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) is another vote lawmakers will be watching closely. As the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Cardin has helped steer the Senate’s oversight of the deal while also occasionally criticizing the Obama administration’s game plan.

Watchers also speculated that Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Michael Bennett (D-Colo.), Chris Coon (D-Del.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) would provide bellwethers going into the August recess.

“If you started seeing people like Heitkamp, like Stabenow, announce their support for a deal, that’s the direction that the Senate is going,” said the second lobbyist.