Key Democrats in US House, Senate eye late declarations on Iran deal

Opponents of the deal must gain the support of 44 House Democrats and 13 Senate Democrats, alongside a united Republican caucus, to kill the agreement.

August 4, 2015 06:54
3 minute read.
US Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY) speaks during a pro-Israel rally

US Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY) speaks during a pro-Israel rally organized by local Jewish communities in front of City Hall in New York. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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WASHINGTON – Key Democrats in both houses of Congress plan to delay any public declarations of support for the Iran nuclear agreement until after the legislature’s summer recess, several Capitol Hill sources told The Jerusalem Post.

Several of those Democrats are Jewish and comprise the party’s leadership: Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York), likely the next leader of the Senate Democratic caucus; Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), ranking member of the powerful Foreign Relations Committee; and Congressman Eliot Engel (D-New York), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee are all, thus far, undeclared.

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Opponents of the deal must gain the support of 44 House Democrats and 13 Senate Democrats, alongside a united Republican caucus, to kill the agreement.

Undeclared Democrats, who together with their colleagues form a necessary firewall for the Obama administration in its effort to preserve the deal through a September vote of disapproval, have calculated several benefits to waiting.

The first is a matter of optics: Even if these members have decided which way they will vote, they are publicly stating their intention to take the bulk of the 60-day review period to actually review the agreement. This, according to their aides, demonstrates respect for the process, for the gravity of the decision before them and for the president himself.

With time on their side, congressmen will retain the ability to gauge public opinion – nationwide, as well as in their individual districts and states – as the vote approaches. They will be able to contextualize the impact of their vote within the Democratic caucus, and decide if disapproval will play a determining factor in whether the deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, survives.

Should they disapprove of the agreement out of principle, or because of the demands of their constituencies, yet hope to minimize the impact of their vote on the national stage, waiting provides them with a third way: They can refrain from declaring their intentions until the vote itself.

This is the likely strategic path of several Democrats stuck between a rock and a hard place on the JCPOA. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is encouraging members to refrain from declaring their intentions publicly until the end of the 60-day review period; US President Barack Obama, on the other hand, is personally encouraging members to declare their support early and loudly.

Two Democrats did just that on Monday.

Congressman Adam Schiff (D-California), a Jewish member and the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, declared his support on Monday with “grave” reservations over the strength of the accord, but having reached the conclusion there is no credible alternative path.

Another California Democrat, Congressman Anna Eshoo, declared her support, as well.

In opposition, Congressman Kathleen Rice (D-New York) said the agreement amounts to “a gift of political legitimacy and economic empowerment that requires too little Iranian maturation.”

“I suspect this deal will pass,” Rice said in a statement. “But for me, it is a risk I cannot support.”

A poll released Monday suggested that public support for the agreement is trending against the president. The Quinnipiac University Poll found that Americans disapprove of the deal by a margin of 2-1, and that only 30 percent of US voters believe the agreement will make America safer.

“Only a bare majority of Democrats support the pact,” said one of its polling analysts in a statement.

Several surveys released in the last week show a plurality of Americans disapprove of the agreement, but none with the margins of Quinnipiac’s findings. The poll had a margin of error of plus/minus 2.4 percentage points.

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