Chuck Schumer Comes Out Against The Iran Nuclear Deal
The Iran nuclear deal will probably survive it's test in Congress in the end, but Chuck Schumer just made the Administration's job a little more difficult.
The Obama Administration’s efforts to sell the Iran nuclear deal to Congress suffered a potentially significant setback last night when Chuck Schumer, the most prominent Jewish member of the Senate and the future leader of the Democratic Caucus, came out against the deal:
WASHINGTON — Senator Chuck Schumer, the most influential Jewish voice in Congress, said Thursday night that he would oppose President Obama’s deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program.
“Advocates on both sides have strong cases for their point of view that cannot simply be dismissed,” Mr. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said in a lengthy statement. “This has made evaluating the agreement a difficult and deliberate endeavor, and after deep study, careful thought and considerable soul-searching, I have decided I must oppose the agreement and will vote yes on a motion of disapproval.”
Mr. Schumer had spent the last several weeks carrying a dog-eared copy of the agreement in his briefcase and meeting with Mr. Obama and officials like Wendy R. Sherman, the deal’s chief negotiator. With his decision, he paves the way for other Democrats on the fence to join Republicans in showing their disapproval.
“There are some who believe that I can force my colleagues to vote my way,” Mr. Schumer said. “While I will certainly share my view and try to persuade them that the vote to disapprove is the right one, in my experience with matters of conscience and great consequence like this, each member ultimately comes to their own conclusion.”
As if on cue, Representative Eliot L. Engel of New York, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who was widely expected to oppose the deal, announced his opposition Thursday night.
Mr. Schumer said his chief concern was that Iran would still be free after a decade to build a nuclear bomb. His announcement comes as Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the minority leader, labors to build a firewall in the House in support of the deal, which has been denounced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. At six meetings in recent weeks, Ms. Pelosi has assembled an informal team of Democrats determined to win over the 146 House Democrats needed to uphold a veto.
But Ms. Pelosi’s team had had its eye on Mr. Schumer, conceded Representative Jan Schakowsky, Democrat of Illinois and one of Ms. Pelosi’s deputies on the Iran deal. Ms. Schakowsky said that Democratic leaders had never put Mr. Schumer “in the ‘yes’ column,” but that “the calculation still is we’ll have the votes” even without him.
So far, 12 Senate Democrats and one Democratic-leaning independent, Senator Angus King of Maine, have announced their support for the deal. Two others, Senator Bernie Sanders, a liberal independent from Vermont, and Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, have all but announced their support.
Support from Mr. King, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia and Senator Bill Nelson of Florida had given momentum to the accord. And an announcement Thursday by Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, that she would support the deal had also provided a boost.
But Mr. Obama needs 34 votes to sustain a promised veto of legislation disapproving the deal, which Republican leaders in the House and the Senate have promised to pass in September.
A veto override would be an enormous blow to the president’s prestige. It would torpedo an agreement between Iran and six powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — but it would not necessarily lead to the reimposition of crippling economic sanctions on Iran, supporters of the deal warn. With the other world powers supporting the agreement, the international sanctions regime would be likely to crumble, leaving the United States with far less effective tools to cripple Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
With so much on the line, Senate Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee like Mr. Kaine had hoped to not only rally the 34 senators needed to sustain a presidential veto, but also to possibly keep enough Democrats behind the president to filibuster a resolution of disapproval next month. To do that, they most likely could lose only five Democrats. Mr. Schumer’s break with Mr. Obama will make that far more difficult.
Schumer’s announcement isn’t a complete surprise. Last week, there were signs that the New York Senator was leaning against supporting the deal for many of the same reasons that he cites in the statement that he released last night. Looking at the number, losing Schumer is not necessarily a huge deal for the Administration. At the same time that he was announcing his opposition to the deal, his fellow New York Senator Kristen Gillibrand was announcing her support for it. Additionally, over the past week Democrats such as Tim Kaine and Barbara Boxer, along with Independent Angus King, have come out in support of the deal and, as I’ve noted, it seems rather unlikely that opponents of the deal will be able to scuttle the deal by overriding President Obama’s expected veto. Losing Schumer, though, complicates things for the White House because it makes it likely that other members in the both the House and the Senate will follow him. Already, Schumer’s announcement seems to causing others to join him, most notably New York Congressman Elliot Engel. In addition to the loss of Congressman Steve Israel, who announced on Tuesday that he would vote against the deal, Schumer’s loss could end up causing other Democrats to vote against the deal as well, and that won’t look good for the Administration. Finally, as noted, losing Schumer means that supporters of the deal will likely be unable to filibuster the resolution of disapproval when it comes up for a vote in the Senate. In order to do that, Democrats will need at least 40 votes on a cloture motion and Schumer’s loss makes that already difficult task all the more difficult.
Notwithstanding Schumer’s announcement, though, it’s not at all clear that this is a fatal blow to the deal. Given the fact that Republicans control the House and Senate, it has been presumed for some time that the disapproval resolution will pass in both the House and Senate rather easily. The question that really matters is whether there will be sufficient votes in both bodies to override President Obama’s veto. As things stand right now, it doesn’t appear that will be the case in the House or the Senate, in no small part because it seems unlikely that Democrats would be willing to hand that kind of a defeat to President Obama on such an important issue. In fact, it’s quite possible that many of the Democrats who end up voting in favor of the disapproval resolution initially will turn around and vote against the veto override. This may be what ends up happening Schumer as well since his statement doesn’t definitively state that he’d vote to override a hypothetical veto of the disapproval resolution. Even if he does, though, the math required in both houses to get to the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto seems insurmountable. In the House, it would require 44 Democrats to join Republicans and in the Senate it would require 13 Democrats. It seems likely that Democrats will allow many members to vote in favor of the override just for their own political futures, but they will make sure that there isn’t a sufficient number to reach the required majority in either House. We won’t know until the votes are cast next month, though, and for the moment at least Chuck Schumer has made the Administration’s work just a little more difficult.