“Skeptical” seems to the word of the day, which itself should prompt skepticism from everyone else. The only Democrat on Capitol Hill proclaiming opposition to the Iran deal is Senator Robert Menendez, and even that’s only probable rather than definite. Most of the others, such as Rep. Steve Israel in this Morning Joe appearance today, professes “skepticism” instead:
Politico’s assessment of the Democratic caucuses in Congress stresses skepticism in the Democratic reaction:
Joe Biden was on the phone Tuesday morning with a fellow Delaware native, Democratic Sen. Chris Coons, hoping to lock down his support for the Obama administration’s sweeping nuclear accord with Iran.
But the vice president quickly learned the administration has a lot more work to do with congressional Democrats.
After the 30-minute call, in which Biden walked Coons through his concerns, the senator ticked off a list of technical questions that he wanted the administration to answer thoroughly. Coons said the talk with Biden was helpful, but until he hears more, he’s reserving judgment on the deal. …
Key Democrats are so far withholding support for the White House’s Iran deal, worried that the plan would undermine national security, threaten Israel and too easily let Tehran escape punishing economic sanctions. Many of them will be in office beyond the end of Obama’s term, so an affirmative vote means they will effectively own the deal when they face voters again. That means they could pay a dear price politically if the accord fails to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions and proves to be a failure.
Even members of Senate Democratic leadership, like Chuck Schumer and Jon Tester, were explicitly noncommittal, a sign of the challenges ahead for the president.
National Journal goes heavy on Democratic skepticism, too:
Democratic skeptics of the administration’s nuclear deal with Iran have made it abundantly clear that they don’t trust the Iranian government. The question—one they’ll have to answer in two months’ time—is whether they trust President Obama and his assurances that the deal is the best way to block the country from developing a nuclear weapon. …
Cardin said Democrats who have been reluctant to jump on board with the administration’s deal out of the gate are right to “keep their options open” before they’ve heard both sides. “I think we should take a look at it and we should be willing to at least read the agreement, hear from the administration, hear from experts. Whether we ultimately support or not support, I think we have a responsibility to understand,” Cardin said.
Cardin himself is taking his time with the deal, saying that he still has several questions on human rights, the arms embargo, the ballistic-missile program, and other areas of the agreement that he needs to look at before making a final decision.
Well, color me skeptical on the skepticism. That’s a pretty cozy position to take at the beginning of this process. Israel even raises some issues which should be dealbreakers, but pronounces himself open to being convinced by the administration. We have been dealing with Iran and its state sponsorship of terrorism for more than three decades, and have seen it explode over the last few years in the region. What part of lifting sanctions and arms embargoes make sense in that context? And that’s just one of the failures in this deal.
The pose of skepticism may or may not be genuine individually, but collectively it allows Democrats room to back Obama in the end and strengthen his position on the deal with Iran. This gives the White House room to claim that Democrats took thoughtful measure of the deal and eventually came to a rational agreement on its benefits. A few may peel off, but don’t expect enough to do so to derail Obama’s great legacy-building agreement with the Iranian mullahcracy. That’s not a bad political strategy under the circumstances, but in the end this will be mostly theater. Cardin hints at it in his criticism of Republican opposition:
“This took two years of negotiations, plus they’ve been in active negotiations; I would hope it takes more than two hours to reach a decision here,” Cardin said.
That’s called setting the hook. Obama can reel this in after 60 days, if nothing else changes. Aaron Blake has the current whip count of the Senate for the Washington Post. Only 48 are listed as definitely or leaning No, with 24 of the 34 votes needed for a veto override leaning or definitely Yes. Menendez is the only Democrat in either No column; among the 28 “purely undecided” or “unknown/unclear,” there are only seven Republicans. There’s a good chance that a bill of disapproval won’t even clear a cloture vote in the Senate, let alone get to a level needed for a veto override.
Don’t expect Congress to block this deal from going through, not unless Iran can’t refrain from a provocation so bad that Obama’s Capitol Hill allies can’t ignore it. And that threshold of provocation will be set very very high.