Blumenthal is key holdout on Iran

Blumenthal is key holdout on Iran

Richard Blumenthal is considered one of the Senate’s most liberal Democrats, but the Connecticut lawmaker is wavering on the nuclear deal with Iran.

As most undecided Senate Democrats fall in line behind President Obama to support the deal, Blumenthal is staying mum.

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“I’m still undecided, but I hope to reach a decision some time in the next week or so,” he told The Hill in a phone interview Tuesday.

Blumenthal is in a tough spot, caught between opponents of the deal such as former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and backers that include the White House and every other member of the Connecticut delegation. 

Adding to the pressure, conservative talk show host Larry Kudlow pledged over the weekend to run against Blumenthal next year if the senator votes to uphold the agreement, which would lift sanctions on Iran in exchange for limits on its nuclear program.

“I’m making this decision independently, without regard to the numbers or the politics,” Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal is one of the most closely watched Democrats who have yet to take a stance on the Iran deal. Other senators who are on the fence include Sens. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinProposed bipartisan kidney legislation takes on kidney disease epidemic in America Lawmakers raise security concerns about China building NYC subway cars House votes to boost retirement savings MORE (D-Md.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOn The Money: Pelosi says no debt ceiling hike until deal on spending caps | McConnell pressures White House to strike budget deal | Warren bill would wipe out billions in student debt | Senate passes IRS reform bill On The Money: Pelosi says no debt ceiling hike until deal on spending caps | McConnell pressures White House to strike budget deal | Warren bill would wipe out billions in student debt | Senate passes IRS reform bill Senate passes bipartisan IRS modernization bill MORE (D-Ore.) and Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetDemocratic presidential hopefuls react to debate placement Democratic presidential hopefuls react to debate placement The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Biden, Sanders to share stage at first DNC debate MORE (D-Colo.).

Senate Democrats supporting the nuclear deal with Iran need just one of the 11 undecided lawmakers to side with them to ensure that Obama can sustain a veto of any legislation rejecting the deal.

Blumenthal told The Hill there are “a number of downsides” to the nuclear deal, including the billions of dollars that will flow to Iran. He also mentioned the potentially cumbersome mechanism for conducting inspections and “the potential for nuclear weaponization at the end of 10 or 15 years.”

“The question for the nation is whether there’s a better agreement or an alternative to this one,” he added.

Still, Blumenthal acknowledged that the numbers would likely be there to uphold Obama’s veto, regardless of his vote.

“There probably will be enough votes to sustain a presidential veto and the real challenge will be how to overcome those defects or weaknesses in implementing [the deal],” Blumenthal said.

“I am focusing not only on the agreement, but on how to improve and enhance it through effective enforcement and verification, because there can be no reliance on trust or hope — trust in the Iranian government or hope that the regime will change,” he added.

So far, only Sens. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerEx-state senator in North Carolina enters race against Tillis Ex-state senator in North Carolina enters race against Tillis Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw MORE (D-N.Y.) and Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezThere is a severe physician shortage and it will only worsen Democrats ask Fed to probe Trump's Deutsche Bank ties Ending the Cyprus arms embargo will increase tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean MORE (D-N.J.) have announced that they plan on joining Republicans and voting to reject the deal.

Blumenthal faces a dilemma similar to the one facing Schumer, who is from neighboring New York.

“The pressures are probably similar to those weighing on Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerEx-state senator in North Carolina enters race against Tillis Ex-state senator in North Carolina enters race against Tillis Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw MORE, only somewhat less,” said Ronald Schurin, a political science professor at the University of Connecticut.

“Connecticut has a significant though not huge Jewish population, and as you know, the Jewish community has been very divided about this [deal],” he added. “On the other hand, Blumenthal is a senator from a state with a strong peace movement. … And this is a state that is left-leaning on foreign policy generally.

“So he has those conflicting pressures.”

Fellow Connecticut Democrat Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyOvernight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments Overnight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments Democrats aim to block defense money from being used on Trump border wall MORE has endorsed the Iran agreement, as have the state’s five House lawmakers, all Democrats.

That fact that Lieberman — the Democratic Party’s nominee for vice president in 2000 — is now leading a group against the deal, United Against Nuclear Iran, is sure to weigh on Blumenthal. He declined to say whether he had spoken with Lieberman.

Advocates on both sides have been making their voices heard in Blumenthal’s state.

Citizens for Nuclear Free Iran, an organization linked to the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has run advertisements opposing the deal on TV stations in Hartford and New Britain, according to the Hartford Courant.

J Street, which supports the deal, has attempted to counter that with its own ads. Activists aiming to protect the deal have also been staging a series of rallies and phone campaigns.

“He’s going to be swayed by the political pressure that’s put on him, which is why we’re continuing to work on getting people to call him who support the agreement,” said Henry Lowendorf, a peace activist and co-chairman of the Greater New Haven Peace Council, who has met twice with Blumenthal on the issue.

The announcement Saturday from Kudlow, who has considered running for Senate in the past, added another wrinkle to the debate. 

“If Sen. Richard Blumenthal votes with Obama on Iran, I’m going to run against him,” the former CNBC host said in a fiery segment on his radio show.

Kudlow would face long odds in the race. Connecticut is an overwhelmingly Democratic state, and Blumenthal easily bested former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon in 2010.

“It’s a long shot,” Kudlow said. “But I’m so angry at this issue, among others.”