Players to Watch in the Iran Deal Debate
Congress rushed to react to President Barack Obama’s Iran deal Tuesday — and will have plenty to chew through in the next two months or so before voting on it.
The initial reaction has been predictable — as is the likely final result. Many Republicans — especially those running for president — torched the Iran deal as a capitulation and a historic mistake, while many top Democrats backed the announcement enthusiastically.
But the math of the Iran Nuclear Review Act means Obama’s almost certainly going to keep his deal intact, although he might have to deploy his rarely used veto pen.
Here’s what the deal means for various players in Washington.
President Barack Obama Obama’s legacy now has a signature diplomatic achievement, one he’s hoped for since declaring his desire to talk to Iranian leaders as a presidential candidate and nurtured through years of diplomacy. His deal shrinks Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium by 98 percent for 15 years and implements a permanent inspection regime the administration is confident would catch any cheating.
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. The former Senate Foreign Relations chairman has already been deployed to woo lawmakers.
Secretary of State John Kerry Twenty months of behind-the-scenes talks by Kerry and his team yielded a breakthrough. But talking to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif might be more fun than his next visit to his old haunts on the Foreign Relations Committee.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y. Schumer, the No. 3 Democrat and presumed heir to Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, maintained an agnostic view of the deal and is being heavily lobbied. In the past, he’s been a skeptic of Iran and a strong supporter of Israel. It’s hard to see any real effort to overturn the deal succeeding without Schumer leading the effort. But even if he ultimately opposes the deal, Obama needs just 34 senators or 146 House Democrats to stick with him to sustain a veto and preserve the deal. Schumer’s decision could determine whether it’s a close vote.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. The Foreign Relations chairman has staked out a place as an honest broker and has shown a willingness to break from his party. If Obama is going to get much in the way of bipartisan support, it might start here.
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md. Like Schumer, Cardin’s a strong supporter of Israel, and he co-authored the Iran review law with Corker. The White House will want him on board, but he’s not a pushover.
Sen. Mark S. Kirk, R-Ill. Rated the most endangered incumbent up for re-election in 2016 by the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call , Kirk has made fighting Iran’s nuclear program his signature issue.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. The freshman senator and Iraq War vet burst onto the scene with an open letter to Iran’s leaders signed by 47 Republicans warning about congressional opposition to the Iran deal, and was one of the first out of the gate Tuesday blasting it again. He’s predicting Congress will overturn it.
Hillary Rodham Clinton The leading Democratic presidential candidate talked positively about the deal during her whirlwind tour of the Capitol Tuesday, but prefaced her support with a lawyerly “based on what I know now” caveat. Presumably the former secretary of State will eventually become a full-throated backer of the deal.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. Reporters were intrigued to see how Paul would react. Other Republican presidential candidates seemed to be competing to see who could sound more apocalyptic about the deal. But Paul has in the past sounded less concerned about Iran than his competition and has been the most averse to launching another war in the Middle East. He posted on Facebook late Tuesday, calling the deal “unacceptable” and saying he would prefer keeping the existing interim agreement in place.
The other presidential candidates: Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt. Each will get a chance to vote on the deal with a bright spotlight on the debate.
Cruz laid out his own demands in a hallway interview with CQ Roll Call, including requiring Iran to disassemble all centrifuges, forfeit its uranium, shut down its intercontinental ballistic missile program and stop sponsoring terrorism.
The deal “if it goes in effect will result in the United States government becoming one of the leading funders of international terrorism. Those American dollars will be used to murder Americans, to murder Israelis, to murder Europeans,” he said.
Cruz called Obama’s speech earlier in the day “particularly shameful” for not mentioning Americans imprisoned in Iran. “I cannot imagine the heartbreak and betrayal that those families must be feeling,” he said.
The hawkish Graham told Bloomberg the deal was “akin to declaring war on Israel” and Sunnis.
And Rubio said it would be up to the next president to reimpose sanctions on “this despicable regime.”
Expect much more like that in the coming months.
Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio Boehner reacted harshly to the deal, but with the thinnest of caveats.
“If in fact it’s as bad a deal as I think it is at this moment, we’ll do everything we can to stop it,” Boehner said.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., sounded even harsher. “If allowed to move forward, history will look back on this bad deal as the sanctioned beginning of Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon,” Scalise said. “I will do everything I can to fight the implementation of any deal that exposes Americans to unacceptable risks.”
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Pelosi commended Obama on the “historic” Iran deal, with the minor caveat that Congress will examine the details. If she keeps her flock on board, it’s a done deal.
Matthew Fleming contributed to this report.