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.
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.