A day after a posse of former White House aides torched Sen. Charles E. Schumer over his rejection of the Iran deal, Press Secretary Josh Earnest politely but firmly knocked the senior senator from New York.
Earnest wouldn't go so far as ex-aides Dan Pfeiffer, Tommy Vietor and Jon Favreau in questioning Schumer's ability to lead Democrats , but he left the door open to dumping Schumer, the heir apparent to Minority Leader Harry Reid, from the top of the Democratic ranks. Earnest said, frostily, that the decision about Democratic leadership is "a question for Democratic senators."
But, he added, "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."
Consider that a shot across the bow at Schumer but something falling a bit shy of a declaration of intraparty war called for by several liberal groups, including MoveOn.org. Earnest said the White House was disappointed but not surprised by Schumer's decision. He went on to lump Schumer's decision with his support for the Iraq War in 2003 — accusing the senator of a mindset that minimizes the chances for diplomacy to work and relies too much on the belief that the United States to unilaterally impose its will on another country in the Middle East. "The president does not believe that that served well the interest of the United States in 2003, and he doesn't believe it serves the interest of the United States well to kill this deal," Earnest said.
Earnest did draw a distinction between Schumer's opposition, which came after reading the agreement and talking to officials, with Republicans who had come out against the agreement before it was even announced.
Earnest also downplayed the idea that Schumer alone would be able to successfully whip up enough support for a veto override. He noted that the junior senator from New York, Kirsten Gillibrand, came out for the deal before Schumer Thursday, and since Schumer's announcement, the only other senator to announce a position — Democrat Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin — also backed the deal.
Most of the Democrats who have announced positions since Obama's tough speech on Wednesday have come out for the deal, despite Schumer and fellow New York Democrat Rep. Eliot Engel, who also announced his opposition Thursday.