Senate Democrats May Be Able To Filibuster The Vote To Block The Iran Nuclear Deal

If the Administration gets its way, efforts to block the Iran nuclear deal may come to a quick end in the Senate.

Iran Nuclear Deal Congress

It’s already becoming clear that President Obama is likely to have enough support in the House and the Senate to prevent Congress from overriding his expected veto of a resolution disapproving the Iran nuclear deal. Nobody on either side is going to admit that openly just yet, of course, although Republican Senator Bob Corker came awfully close today. We’ll be subjected to several weeks of debate while Congress prepares for the vote, but it’s a virtual certainty at this point that the deal will go through. Now, though, Politico is reporting that Democrats on the Hill and the Obama Administration are aiming to try to block a vote in the Senate altogether:

President Barack Obama’s almost certain to get the Iran nuclear deal — but whether he gets there by filibuster or sustained veto could make all the difference.

A Democratic filibuster in the Senate would be a clear victory for the president, allowing Obama to say that for all the political noise there wasn’t enough actual opposition to the nuclear agreement with the Islamic republic to even get to a final vote.

Having to save the deal with a veto (just the fifth of his presidency) and relying on liberals in the House and Senate to sustain it would be much more trouble: a procedural pull across the finish line that sows more doubts in a public already skeptical of the deal, leaves international partners worried about America’s long-term commitment and adds weeks of added time and tangles.

The White House very much prefers option A. And even before he came out publicly for the deal on Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had been in frequent contact with White House chief of staff Denis McDonough to try to make that happen.

The numbers are tight: They’ll need 12 of the remaining 15 undecided Senate Democrats to go Obama’s way, along with the 29 already there.

Obama, White House aides and Senate minority whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) — who’s been running the unofficial Iran vote-counting operation — have been scrambling to lock down the remaining votes to get 41 Democrats to stick with the president.

“Those who are students of the process know that the president has the last word,” Durbin said. “I’d like to win it earlier.”

Obama faces a huge pile-up of trouble if he has to veto the bill, and they know it in the West Wing. Already facing major public skepticism about the deal, this could brew more doubt. The other governments involved have expressed their own wariness, concerned that a deal preserved only by a sustained veto might represent a lack of long-term American commitment.

“There’s a cost to the international credibility of the country and this president if a motion of disapproval passes the House and the Senate,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who’s working with Durbin. “There is some harm to the country’s standing if we have to go through the charade of the veto.”

Both the West Wing and Durbin’s team are trying to avoid setting premature confidence.

The White House is trying not to set expectations high by openly seeking a filibuster. Right now, the president looks strong as it becomes nearly mathematically impossible for GOP leaders to build a veto-proof majority in either the House or Senate.

“The president’s only concern here is that Congress doesn’t take this off the rails,” said White House spokesman Eric Schultz.

Opponents of the deal say forcing the president to veto the measure would send a message to Iran that enough members of Congress are ready to impose new sanctions on Tehran if it fails to follow the accord.

Forcing the president to pull out his veto pen is “important as a statement to Iran, and may make it more likely that Iran keep the promises about what it will not do,” said former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, chairman of United Against Nuclear Iran and with his hand in two other opposition groups, though he refused to concede that Obama would be safe from an override vote.

Using the whip count that The Washington Post has been keeping of Senators announced positions on the deal, we are presently at a the point where there are 33 votes in favor of the deal and 57 against. As I noted yesterday, this means that the White House would just need one more of the ten Democratic Senators who remain officially undecided to be able to block a veto. Since it’s unlikely that all ten of those Democrats will turn against the Administration, it seems highly likely that the Senate would be unable to override the President veto and the deal would be approved. Putting together the numbers needed for a filibuster would be a little harder, but not impossible. Instead of one more vote, Democrats would need eight of the remaining ten Senators to agree to vote against a Cloture Motion on the resolution and, of course, they would need all 33 of those who have come out in favor of the deal to agree to vote against cloture as well. This last part may prove to be more difficult than gathering the remaining ten Senators because its possible that there may some Democrats who believe that the Senate should be allowed to debate and vote on the resolution even though they intend to ultimately vote against it.

Assuming they can get the votes together, the question then becomes whether the Administration would rather have a situation where the deal is approved because Congress was unable to override the President’s veto, or a situation where the deal was approved because Democrats were able to block the Senate from voting on the matter at all. On the one hand, a veto showdown over what is arguably the most important piece of foreign policy related legislation of President Obama’s Presidency would send a message to the world that the Administration would probably like to avoid if it could, as would the spectacle of a majority of both the House and the Senate rejecting the deal. On the other hand, a successful filibuster would lead to the argument that the Administration was afraid to put the matter to an up-or-down vote and potentially undermine the world’s perception of America’s commitment to the deal. I’m not sure which outcome would have the worse political consequences to be honest, and perhaps a victory should be taken as a victory. At the same time, though, it strikes me that approving this deal via a filibuster would simply add to the political controversy that already surrounds it and potentially put the willingness of future Administrations to remain committed to it into doubt.

FILED UNDER: Congress, National Security, US Politics, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. PJ says:

    Stupid piece by Politico. No that it’s surprising.

    Having to save the deal with a veto (just the fifth of his presidency) and relying on liberals in the House and Senate to sustain it would be much more trouble: a procedural pull across the finish line that sows more doubts in a public already skeptical of the deal, leaves international partners worried about America’s long-term commitment and adds weeks of added time and tangles.

    Republicans in Congress already accomplished that months ago.

    Obama has issued 4 vetoes.

    Reagan issued 78 in eight years.
    George H.W. Bush issued 44 in four years.
    Bill Clinton issued 37 in eight years.
    George W. Bush issued 12 in eight years.

    It’s clear that a fifth veto would doom Obama’s Presidency.

    Also, it would also doom any hope he had of being re-elected in 2016…

  2. gVOR08 says:

    If the cloture vote fails, will the supposedly liberal MSM make a big deal out of Dems blocking cloture in the face of a GOP majority, or simply report that the resolution to kill the deal failed by 58-41? When the Dems had a majority and the GOPs blocked everything it was either reported as failed 58-41, leaving the general public to think it was 58 against, not for; or reported that the Dems failed to get 60 votes, leaving the impression a 60 vote super-majority was some sort of historical normal.

  3. stonetools says:

    It would be great if Obama ran the table with the rest of the Senate undecideds, leaving Schumer and Menendez as the only Senate Democrats in opposition. I would be LMAO over that. Probably won’t happen, though.
    I’ll do my part tomorrow by calling Mark Warner and reminding him that I was one of the votes that pulled him across the finish line last year. I would ask all of you to do the same with the your Senators, if you haven’t already.
    An interesting point:

    Every Jewish member of California’s Congressional delegation except Brad Sherman is supporting the #IranDeal h/t @lrozen

    Looks like AIPAC can’t buy everyone.

  4. Tyrell says:

    There should not be a rush job to get this treaty approved. There needs to be an independent committee formed; made up of scientists, military, business, and average people. They should have full access to all documents, side deals, secret deals, files, and records concerning this agreement. They should conduct interview sessions with all of those involved in the negotiations, deals, and talks: US, UN, and Iranian. Then they will make a report to the President, Congress, and the public. Then a vote can be taken.

  5. Davebo says:

    @Tyrell:

    It’s not a treaty. The fact that you think it is really reflects on your ignorance on the issue.

    As to your belief in “side deals, secret files”, you’ve swallowed hard the bullshit you’ve been fed.

    So here’s an idea, since you seem to revel in your ignorance why not STFU and let the grownups handle this?

  6. Pinky says:

    @PJ: Yeah, but that’s not really fair comparing number of vetoes without context. Very little of what the House Republicans have voted on has made it to the Senate floor.

  7. Ron Beasley says:

    Our Jewish Senator here in Oregon, Ron Wyden, still says he’s undecided but in this very blue state he knows what side his bread is buttered and will end up supporting the deal.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    @Pinky:

    There are so few vetoes because Republicans are making no effort to govern. They aren’t passing bills, they’re throwing a single 8 year-long toddler tantrum.

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    At the same time, though, it strikes me that approving this deal via a filibuster would simply add to the political controversy that already surrounds it and potentially put the willingness of future Administrations to remain committed to it into doubt.

    Tomato, tomahto…. What’s the diff? As far as future Administrations, the world already knows the GOP has committed itself to absolute stupidity and so has decided that whether the US goes along with this deal or not, they are and we can just screw off. The GOP is working hard to make the US irrelevant on the world stage except for the occasional ‘toddler tantrum’ as Michael says.

    Of course, when the toddler in question has an Army, a Navy, and an Air Force…

  10. gVOR08 says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: A year from now no one except GOP partisans will remember how it passed. Twenty years from now Republicans will be claiming it as their deal.

  11. KM says:

    @Tyrell:

    average people. They should have full access to all documents

    Yes, because your average Truck Stop Tommy will be able to understand all the information presented. Most people can’t haggle worth a damn and certainly don’t understand science, strategy and tactics or geopolitical subtleties to be anything but be a headache to security wondering when the first LOLOMG Look at This Facebook will happen. Clearly people who need constant access to Wikipedia to look up all the 10-dollar words being tossed around will be an asset in a terse negotiation setting…. when they finally put down the phone to participate, that is.

    Your insecurity is showing. Average people are just that: average. Bog standard, middle of the road, not particularly bright nor dumb or accomplished in anything. Being “salt of the earth” does not automatically confer some type of inherent wisdom. We send specialists out who are trained in this sort of thing, excel at it specifically because we don’t want the fate of our nation in some random yahoo’s hands.

  12. Grumpy Realist says:

    @Tyrell: and by the time all that activity has taken place, Europe, Russia, and China will have bolted out the door and be making deals with Iran left right and center.

    Do you really think that the U.S. dawdling will improve our bargaining position? I suggest you read up some history and hoe Russia ended up making a pact with Germany because the Brits tried the same dawdling trick and discovered far too late that no, the Russian bear was NOT bluffing…

  13. Scott says:

    @Tyrell: There already was a huge committee: multinational, large numbers of experts (scientists, foreign policy, etc.) many subcommittees, etc. All watched closely by all the interested parties. The result was this agreement. It reflects the interests of all parties.

  14. stonetools says:

    Just exercised my right to petition my Senator. Participating in a democracy feels great. I would urge everyone here to follow suit.
    I just checked, and my Congressman (Jim Beyer) is already on board. I think my work as a voter on this issue is done.

  15. gVOR08 says:

    @KM: Scott Adams of Dilbert has been showing up in Trump posts. Many years ago he talked about in-DUH-viduals. His idea was that people may be quite bright and competent in their professional fields and a few fields of interest, but they can’t be knowledgeable about everything, so there are many areas in which they’re quite dumb. Makes perfect sense, and is no slam against the in-DUH-vidual. The thing I object to is their going into fields in which they know absolutely nothing and insisting that their opinions, based on gut feel and conservative “common sense”, should be given equal respect alongside those of experts who’ve spent careers understanding nuclear proliferation or climate science or whatever.

  16. Franklin says:

    @Tyrell:

    an independent committee formed … of … average people

    Yes, I would feel a lot of safer if Joe the plumber could just go ahead and give me a thumb’s up or a thumb’s down on a deal regarding nuclear weapons.

  17. al-Ameda says:

    @Tyrell:

    There should not be a rush job to get this treaty approved. There needs to be an independent committee formed; made up of scientists, military, business, and average people.

    “average people”? You mean the same people who can’t locate Iran on a labeled map of the world? The same people who think the world is 7,000 years old, who believe that Foreign aid is a significant part of the federal budget?