The Iran Nuclear Deal Debate Is Basically Over
President Obama now has enough votes in the Senate, and probably the House, to ensure that Congress cannot block the nuclear deal with Iran.
President Obama has secured enough support in the Senate to block a Republican effort to kill the Iran Nuclear Deal, and may gain enough support to block the Senate from voting on the matter at all:
WASHINGTON — Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland on Wednesday came out in support of President Obama’s Iran nuclear accord, the 34th Democrat in favor. Her decision gives Mr. Obama the votes needed to assure the deal will survive a congressional challenge.
“Some have suggested we reject this deal and impose unilateral sanctions to force Iran back to the table. But maintaining or stepping up sanctions will only work if the sanction coalition holds together,” Ms. Mikulski, the longest serving female senator in history, said in a statement.
“It’s unclear if the European Union, Russia, China, India and others would continue sanctions if Congress rejects this deal. At best, sanctions would be porous, or limited to unilateral sanctions by the U.S.”
Ms. Mikulski’s decision came a day after Senators Chris Coons of Delaware and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania also announced they would support the deal. With 34 senators favoring the accord between Iran and six world powers limiting the country’s nuclear program, opponents may still be able to pass a resolution disapproving the deal later this month, but they do not have the votes to override Mr. Obama’s promised veto.
And with momentum on their side, the White House and Senate Democrats next week hope to find seven more votes to filibuster the Republican resolution of disapproval. That would ensure the resolution would never leave the Senate, and Mr. Obama would not be forced to use a veto.
Despite the continuing rancor on Capitol Hill, there was also growing recognition, even among some accord opponents, that the other nations — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, and especially Iran — would be unwilling to renegotiate the agreement even if Congress formally rejected it.
In most cases, support for the deal has not been enthusiastic, as lawmakers have confronted one of the most divisive policy debates of modern times, with the security of Israel and the stability of the Middle East potentially at stake. But enough Democrats have come to the conclusion that killing the accord would be far worse than approving it.
When Senators Coons and Casey announced yesterday that they were supporting the deal, it was inevitable that we would reach the point that we’re at now, the only question was which Senator would be the one to put the President over the top. Since Mikulski is not running for re-election, she is among those Senators who is safe from worrying about electoral repercussions from her vote, or from the inevitable negative campaigning that would have come if she for re-election in 2016. Of course, being from Maryland it’s unlikely that she would have lost re-election because of this vote anyway, but the fact she’s the vote that put the President over the top in the Senate means that the remaining eight Democrats who have not announced their position on the deal will not have to worry about being labeled as the person who provided the President with the winning vote. This likely won’t matter for many of the Senators in question, but to the extent that it takes the pressure off of them it may make it easier for them to announce their support for the deal. Alternatively, of course, the fact that the deal is now certain to survive Congressional efforts to block it may mean that a few of these Senators will feel free to vote against the President, or may even be freed by the White House to do so in order to protect their own political futures.
With Senate support sufficient to stop a veto override in place, the question now will become whether Democrats will have enough votes to filibuster the initial Disapproval Resolution, thus preventing a Senate vote before the expiration of the 60 day review period. With 34 confirmed votes, and possibly as many as 36 votes if Senators Blumenthal and Manchin end up supporting the deal as they have hinted in the past, Democrats need seven of the remaining nine undecided Democrats to vote for cloture. Even if all or most of these Senators end up supporting the deal, it’s not guaranteed that they’ll support a filibuster. Delaware Senator Chris Coons, for example, has said that he would prefer to see the Senate have an up-or-down vote on the bill even though he supports the deal. If even just a handful of other Democrats feel the same way, then they might vote with the GOP to allow the resolution to pass cloture and proceed to a final vote.
However the vote counting turns out on Capitol Hill goes, though, the result is the same. The deal will go forward, starting with the end of certain sanctions against Tehran and the beginnings of the inspection regime. As Paul Waldmn notes today, if it turns out that the deal fails then many of the Democrats who supported the deal today could end up paying a political price for that support not dissimilar to the price that many Congressmen and Senators paid for the vote in support of the Iraq War. Republicans, on the other hand, are not likely to face many consequences for their opposition if the deal succeeds. In the near future, the focus of Iran policy is going to turn toward the question of whether or not they are complying with the agreement, at that point where people stood on the deal back in September of 2015 isn’t likely ot matter to voters very much. Additionally, there’s not likely to be much of an upside for supporting the deal if it does succeed, and it’s unlikely to cause Republicans or others opposed to the deal to change their mind. Indeed, some analysts have argued that this deal has the potential to make war with Iran more likely because a violation, real or perceived, would provide a future President and Congress with the legal justification they need for military action, something that is completely lacking at this time.
In any event, those are all concerns for the future. In the here and now, the deal will pass some time in the next two to three weeks and then we’ll just have to see if it works.