White House remains certain Congress will fail to block Iran deal

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Thursday became the first Democratic senator to announce his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal. The White House said Friday it doesn’t matter.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Thursday became the first Democratic senator to announce his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal. The White House said Friday it doesn’t matter. AP

The White House expressed confidence Friday that it will prevail in the multi-million-dollar battle over the Iran nuclear deal, dismising a senior Democratic senator’s rejection of President Barack Obama’s top foreign policy goal.

The Obama administration appeared to have good reason for its certainty: a Democratic lawmaker said that more than enough House Democrats have said they would uphold Obama’s promised veto of a Republican resolution intended to kill the nuclear pact by barring the lifting of U.S. sanctions on Iran.

“We will have the votes to sustain a veto,” Rep. Jan Schakowky, D-Ill., told McClatchy in a telephone interview. She noted that 150 Democratic House members who signed a May 7 letter urging a conclusion of the nuclear deal remain solidly behind the accord, more than enough to sustain any veto in the 435-member House. More have since joined, she said.

Schakowsky spoke hours after Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., a veteran Jewish lawmaker in line to succeed retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, declared that he would support the resolution of disapproval that Republican leaders are expected to put to a vote in mid September.

More than 150 House Democrats have already said they’ll vote to sustain a presidential veto. Obama only needs 146.

In his statement issued Thursday night, Schumer echoed criticisms of other opponents. The deal, he contended, doesn’t guarantee that Iran couldn’t secretly develop a nuclear weapon. He said Tehran could use funds freed up by the lifting of international sanctions to “increase belligerent activities in the Middle East and elsewhere.”

His announcement was significant in that it could give political cover to less senior Democrats who have yet to announce their positions amidst fierce lobbying campaigns by opponents of the measure, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The very real risk that Iran will not moderate and will, instead, use the agreement to pursue nefarious goals is too great

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY

While Schumer long was expected to oppose the deal, the timing of his statement – released in the middle of the first Republican 2016 presidential campaign debate – surprised many observers and unleashed a torrent of praise from deal opponents and bitter condemnation from deal suporters.

The administration clearly shared proponents’ ire. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest noted that Schumer and the president have differed over Middle East policy since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, which Schumer supported and Obama opposed.

“The fault line of this argument dates back more than a decade,” said Earnest, who suggested that Schumer’s desire for a more aggressive U.S. policy toward Iran mirrored the Bush administration’s use of force against Iraq.

“Senator Schumer is advocating an approach to foreign policy that minimizes the likelihood of success in diplomacy and relies far too much on the ability of the United States to unilaterally impose our will through force,” Earnest said. “That’s what Senator Schumer advocated in 2003. The president doesn’t believe that served the interests of the United States.”

Earnest’s comments reflected the administration strategy to garner support for the nuclear deal by harnessing lingering popular anger over the Iraq war and equating opponents of the Iran agreement with the architects of the 2003-2011 U.S. occupation of Iraq.

There’s ample public data to indicate that this is an agreement that Democrats across the country support

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest

Earnest said that the White House is certain it would corral either the 34 Senate votes or the 146 House votes that it needs to sustain an Obama veto of any resolution of disapproval. Overriding a veto requires a two-thirds vote of both chambers.

Schumer’s decision was “disappointing but not surprising,” said Earnest. “But it doesn’t change our confidence that we’ll be able to mobilize a substantial majority of Democrats in both the House and the Senate.”

At least 15 Democratic senators have declared their support for the deal, while Schumer is the only Democratic senator to come out in opposition so far, although others are expected to follow him.

Earnest suggested that Schumer’s decision could hurt his chances of succeeding Reid after the Nevada Democrat retires at the end of next year.

“I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if there are individual members of the Senate Democratic caucus that will consider the voting record of those who say they would like to lead the caucus,” he said.

Liberal advocacy groups fiercely condemned Schumer’s decision.

“It is outrageous and unacceptable that the Democrat who wants to be the party’s leader in the Senate is siding with the Republican partisans and neoconservative ideologues who are trying to scrap this agreement and put us on the path to war,” said Ilya Sheyman, the executive director of the 8 million-strong

Sheyman said the group would organize a “donors strike” against any Democrat who joined Schumer, who faces re-election next year, in opposing the deal.

Schumer won the praise of the American Israel Political Action Committee, the powerful pro-Israel lobbying organization, which lauded what it called his “principled stand and his leadership in opposing the Iran nuclear agreement.”

Schakowsky waved off Schumer’s decision and an announcement Thursday evening by Rep. Eliot Engel, D-NY, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, that he also would oppose the deal.

“Those announcements were not a surprise and don’t diminish our optimism that we will have the votes to sustain a veto,” she said.

Jonathan S. Landay: 202-383-6012, @JonathanLanday

Lesley Clark: 202-383-6054, @lesleyclark