Amid Skepticism on Hill, Obama Steps Up Iran Deal Lobbying
With the United Nations Security Council officially backing the Iran deal earlier this week, the Obama administration is picking up its congressional outreach efforts in order to quell a potential August mutiny over the nuclear agreement.
While it would take a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate to stop the deal, Republican opposition has been immediate and steadfast — and Democratic support seems shaky, at best. On Wednesday, Republicans and Democrats reported there were plenty of questions still to be answered on the deal — and many minds had not been made up.
“I continue to see more concern on our side and the other side of the aisle,” Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters during the GOP’s weekly news conference.
During the Democratic Caucus’ rival news conference, Rep. Zoe Lofgren said a majority of House Democrats had signed a letter saying, “let the diplomatic process proceed.” Lofgren was one of those Democrats. “That doesn’t mean the end agreement is suitable,” she said.
Lofgren said Democrats are open to the idea of a diplomatic solution with Iran. “Now we need to see whether that diplomatic agreement meets our expectations,” she said.
Another California Democrat, Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, said he found it “really hard to believe” that anyone could either endorse or condemn the deal without having read it. “So having heard so many voices of opposition before the deal was even made public tells me those people were closed to the idea of this agreement in the first place.”
“Many of us are gonna take the time to hear from all sides, because at the end of the day, we have a vote coming up,” he said.
Vice Chairman Joseph Crowley said lawmakers owed it to negotiators, the president and their constituents to hear the administration out.
“Most of us are going through the document itself and we look forward to hearing from Secretary of State [John] Kerry and the secretary of Energy and others who helped negotiate this deal,” the New York Democrat said, adding he has “a number of questions” himself.
The entire House is set to meet with administration officials in a classified briefing on Wednesday, and, as Crowley pointed out, Democrats are set to have their own meeting with Kerry and Secretary of Energy Ernest J. Moniz as well to discuss the deal. Those meetings could be key to keeping Democrats in line.
Republicans, however, already seem like a lost cause.
“While the president’s Iran deal may have been applauded at the United Nations, I think it faces a serious skepticism here at home,” Speaker John A. Boehner said Wednesday.
The White House lobbying blitz could be key for keeping Democrats onboard with the deal. The president even took three House Democrats golfing Sunday — a rare instance of personal politicking for the White House.
Still, some lawmakers contend the tide could shift on the deal — especially with the August recess coming up.
“Through the August recess you’re going to hear a lot of debate and real concern across the country about this Iran deal,” Majority Whip Steve Scalise said.
The August break can change things in Washington, as Republicans learned in 2013.
Republicans left town for the August recess that year generally committed to avoiding a government shutdown, but the feedback from face-to-face encounters with voters moved lawmakers to push leadership for more of a fight on Obamacare.
Democrats could face a similar situation with their constituents. Only instead of a government shutdown over Obamacare, Democrats could be overruling their president on Iran — at least, that’s what some Republicans would like to see.
“As more of the details come out, we’ve got more and more people expressing concern about how bad of a deal this is for the United States and for our strong ally Israel,” Scalise said.
The Louisiana Republican isn’t the only lawmaker concerned about how Israel will fare in the deal. The Conservative Opportunity Society, composed of roughly 40 Republicans, met with the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, Wednesday morning, and the message of the breakfast meeting, according to Iowa Republican Steve King, was that “a bad deal is worse than no deal.”
King said if the deal goes through, “Non-proliferation as an agenda is dead as we know it.”
He said any country with money could follow Iran’s lead, with Saudi Arabia next, and the United Arab Emirates after. “And it goes on and on in that part of the world,” he said, continuing that the fate of the free world rested on this deal and the ability to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles
“Just imagine the Middle East with ICBMs sticking up out of the sand everywhere,” he said.
Matt Fuller and Emma Dumain contributed to this report.
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