Iran Filibuster Vote Too Close to Call

The White House looks certain to be able to sustain a veto of any resolution of disapproval that Congress sends President Barack Obama. But it's quite possible no such legislation reaches his desk. 

It became clear Wednesday that the White House has the 34 Senate votes it would need to sustain a veto. So attention is quickly shifting to prospects in the Senate for finding enough supporters for a filibuster of the resolution.

Obama needs at least 41 senators to block moving to a final vote on the resolution, regardless of the fact that a majority of the Senate would vote for the measure.

Looked at from the other side, Republicans need to add five senators to the 55 they now have who oppose the deal and will insist on a vote to pass it.

Eleven senators have not yet made public their positions on the Iran agreement.

Advocates of the deal are cautiously optimistic that they have the votes to successfully filibuster. Opponents of the deal generally say the whip count is too close to call.

Jamal Abdi, executive director of NIAC Action, a group created by the National Iranian American Council to advocate for the nuclear accord, said he believes 41 senators will support a filibuster.

Of the 46 senators in the Democratic caucus, several could still oppose the deal and a filibuster. But right now only three appear to be likely to do so, experts say: Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon, Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland and Gary Peters of Michigan. 

The White House is not explicitly campaigning for a filibuster but is privately understood to badly want one in order to prevent the Republican-controlled Congress from voting down the deal and requiring the president to use his veto. To have Congress disapprove the deal while the U.S president approves it would send a confusing signal to international audiences about where the United States stands on the agreement and so is something the Obama administration and its proxies are eager to avoid.

“Sen. Durbin’s goal has always been to build as much support for the deal as possible, and that hasn’t changed,” said Ben Marter, spokesman for the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., who has played a leading role whipping his colleagues in support of the nuclear agreement. “There are 10 [Democratic] members who haven’t yet publicly announced their position, so there’s still a long way to go."

Under the terms of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (PL 114-17), the resolution would have to clear Congress by Sept. 17  in order to block Obama from lifting statutory sanctions on Iran.

In related news, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to her caucus on Wednesday touting the progress seen in recent days on the part of deal supporters. The California Democrat predicted by the end of the week “well over 100 House Democrats will have made their support for the agreement public.”

At least 146 House votes are needed to sustain the president’s veto in the chamber though the outlook in the House has become less important now that Obama has the backing of a veto-proof number of 34 senators.

--Matt Fleming contributed to this report.

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