(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON -- Two senators wary of risks they believe are inherent to the Iran nuclear accord have outlined their concerns and decided to support it, providing US President Barack Obama with near certainty the deal will survive a pivotal vote later this month.
Democratic senators Chris Coons of Delaware and Bob Casey, Jr. of Pennsylvania endorsed the agreement on Tuesday, one with a lengthy speech and the other with an 8,000-word essay. Both expressed concern over their impression the deal was temporary, with perceived holes in the inspections regime and in the UN International Atomic Energy Agency's standards for solving a query into Iran's past nuclear work; But both said the path forward provided clarity and support from the international community, while a rejection of the deal would lead to uncharted, likely dangerous waters.
Their votes provide momentum to the deal's supporters within the Democratic caucus and raise questions over whether enough Democrats will defect for a vote to be held at all. With 54 Republicans in the Senate united against the deal and only two Democrats thus far joining them, four more Democrats will have to oppose the deal for the resolution to break through a "filibuster-proof majority"— a total of 60 senators— to invoke cloture and reach a vote.
Opponents had hoped Coons and Casey would be among those four, given their public grievances over the accord. But their decisions to support the agreement leave opponents with only eleven undecided members to pluck from, all of whom are Democrats.
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"Frankly, this is not the agreement I had hoped for," Coons said in a speech at the University of Delaware. He said his mind was made up earlier in the day. "This agreement, at best, freezes Iran’s nuclear enrichment program."
But such a freeze, Coons continued, buys time for the United States to gain visibility into that program and to combat Iran in other spheres. And alternative paths outside the deal were not viable, he added.
Congress will debate the accord and plans to vote on a resolution of disapproval later this month, near the end of a review period which expires on September 17. The Obama administration needs only 34 of 100 senators to support the deal in order to uphold a presidential veto of such a resolution, which now appears guaranteed.
Coons is the 33rd senator to announce support. Thus, the vote itself is now in question: If the president earns the backing of 41 senators, Democrats can filibuster debate and effectively block a vote.
According to Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, the White House is certain to succeed in securing that final vote necessary to preserve Obama's veto, should he need to use it.
"It looks pretty clear the president is going to have the support to sustain a veto," Cardin said on Tuesday morning, speaking to constituents at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
After his speech, Coons told reporters that a vote of disapproval— with enough support to surpass a filibuster— "will be a very close call." And Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina, agreement with the assessment in an interview earlier in the day in which he said the vote was "unclear."
Before the event, Cardin granted an interview to a local radio station in which he bemoaned the fateful decision ahead. The Jewish senator and highest-ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee remains undecided.
Iran is given, under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action announced on July 14, "the green light to enrich at a pretty high level, legally," Cardin said, "dangerously close to breakout." He plans to announce his decision within days.
Thus far, the only two Senate Democrats publicly opposed to the deal are senators Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Chuck Schumer of New York.
The deal, Coons said in his speech, would not bind the US Congress from protecting the state of Israel with total financial support, from strategic programs aimed at combating Iran's proxies on its borders to potential threats to come.
"If Iran violates this agreement and moves closer to acquiring a nuclear weapons capability, I will support all means of ending their nuclear ambition, including the use of military force," Coons said. "Our president has made a similar commitment to me and other members of Congress, but more importantly, it is a commitment you should expect from the next administration and the ones that follow."
Casey, representing a state where polls suggest widespread skepticism over the deal, said the agreement was best for the US and Israel "in the short term and the long term."
"Implementation of this agreement may be challenging and we need to be prepared for the possibility that Iran will violate the agreement," Casey said. "As a result, I believe this agreement must be undergirded by a clear and unequivocal statement from both the Administration and the Congress: We are prepared to take military action if Iran attempts to develop a nuclear weapon."