WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama has secured enough votes in the US Senate to potentially filibuster debate over the Iran nuclear agreement and block a vote on the accord.
Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon, Gary Peters of Michigan and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, all Democrats, declared support for the agreement on Tuesday, as Congress returned from its summer recess. That brings support for the agreement to a total of 41 senators.
All 41 of those senators must remain united against proceeding with a vote on a resolution of disapproval, in order to successfully filibuster debate and prevent such a vote in the 100-member chamber.
But several Democrats in favor of the agreement have suggested they want to see the vote proceed. As such, a vote on a resolution of disapproval, expected next week, may still take place. At that point, the resolution would pass and Obama would veto the measure. He would then have the requisite support of a third of the Senate to uphold his veto.
The House plans a full vote on the agreement this week, and the Senate plans to begin official debate on Wednesday.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has ordered his parliament to review the accord.
Cheney: Obama's Iran deal can be "catastrophic"
Secretary of State John Kerry discussed Iran with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a weekend telephone call and reaffirmed the US commitment to Israel’s security, the State Department said on Tuesday.
They discussed the impact of the deal on Israel’s security, and Russia’s increasing presence in Syria, according the State Department officials.
“The secretary and the prime minister reiterated the need to continue pushing back on Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region, and he agreed to continue to have these discussions in the coming weeks,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said at a news briefing. “The secretary reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to Israel’s security and continued military and security relationship.”
Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia announced his opposition to the deal on Tuesday. He is the 58th senator to declare opposition to the deal, joining three Democratic colleagues: Chuck Schumer of New York, Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Ben Cardin of Maryland.
Earlier in the day, former vice president Dick Cheney delivered a sweeping condemnation of the accord.
Speaking to the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank based in Washington, Cheney – an architect and face of the recent Iraq war – said the president’s team had made “concession after concession after concession” in the twoyear negotiation, ultimately signing an agreement that endangers the United States and its allies in the Middle East.
“They have placed on the table for congressional review a deal that provides weapons and funds to a regime that has pledged to destroy Israel and maintains ‘Death to America’ as a central pillar of its policies,” Cheney said. “Arming and funding Iran while simultaneously providing them a pathway to a nuclear arsenal is not an act of peace. It’s not, as President Obama claims, the only alternative to war. It is madness.”
In a lengthy speech, Cheney said the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the formal name for the nuclear deal, failed to hold Iran to account adequately for past military dimensions of its nuclear work; constructed a porous inspections regime that would allow Iran to conceal suspected nuclear sites with military dimensions in the future; and granted Iran a “right to enrich” uranium, setting a precedent that he said would lead to nuclear proliferation worldwide.
“It guarantees that in less time than has passed since 9/11,” Tehran “will have the ability and material to produce an arsenal of nuclear weapons,” Cheney said.
“And at that point what is to prevent them from doing so?” he continued.
“Well, President Obama tells us, they promise they won’t. We are asked to rely on the word of a country that has cheated on every nuclear agreement to which they have been a party that once they have the means in place to become a nuclear power, they won’t do it.”
Iran has been a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty since 1968, which prohibits it from ever building nuclear weapons. Iran reiterated that commitment in the JCPOA.
The NPT does allow member states to produce peaceful nuclear power, but does not explicitly outline the means to that power. Throughout the negotiations, Tehran argued that the treaty’s vague language covered its uranium enrichment program – a position that the countries of Europe considered reasonable, and that the United States has tacitly accepted.
“Agreeing to the demand that the United States recognize such a right for Iran guts the fundamental principle at the heart of the NPT and makes it much more difficult for the international community to deny such a right to any other state,” Cheney asserted. “It also, in one fell swoop, neutered six United Nations Security Council resolutions passed to stop Iran’s nuclear program, including its uranium enrichment activities.”
Speaking at another Washington think tank the same morning, Democratic Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada – his caucus’s outgoing minority leader – said the JCPOA forbids Iran from building a nuclear weapon “forever.”
“This agreement will stand,” Reid said. “Like it or not, we need our partners in this effort. And our partners have told us, in no uncertain terms, that if we walk away from this effort, we walk away alone.”
He said that Congress would continue to “hold the line” against Iranian arms trafficking and malign activities across the region, and promised to work with the White House and Republicans to further a bill proposed by Maryland’s Cardin to restrict those activities and bolster the security of Israel.
“I believe this agreement makes Israel safer, and in no small part, that is why I support it,” Reid said.
He noted his record of splitting with the president on matters concerning Israel’s security.
Cheney, however, said the deal put the future of the Jewish people at risk, and frequently referred to Israel’s security throughout his address.
“This deal gives Tehran the means to launch a nuclear attack on the US homeland,” he said. “It threatens the security of our Arab allies across the Middle East. It threatens the security of Europe. And it should not be forgotten that this deal has vast implications for the future security of the Jewish people.”
Quoting prominent conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, Cheney added, “It took Nazi Germany seven years to kill six million Jews. It would take a nuclear-armed Iran one day.”
Reuters contributed to this report.