Nat'l Journal: Obama still short of Senate votes on Iran deal

Not long ago, some wondered whether Republican opponents of the Iran deal would have enough votes to clear a cloture vote on a bill rejecting the agreement. National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar has kept count of public declarations, and surprisingly thinks that opponents — in both parties — might still muster up enough votes not just to pass a rejection, but to sustain a veto override of it too:

The vote is likely to go down to the wire. With Obama spending every bit of political capital to prevent 13 Senate Democrats (and around 45 House Democrats) from defecting, the administration holds the upper hand. But while many Washington watchers assumed Obama would have enough Democrats to sustain a veto, Schumer’s early opposition to the bill—and the majority of swing senators remaining on the fence—indicate that opponents have a credible shot at generating two-thirds opposition necessary to scuttle the deal. The fact that prominent members of Obama’s inner circle threatened Schumer’s standing as future Senate leader after he declared his opposition to the deal underscored just how tenuous support for the administration’s deal is.

The White House’s biggest gets so far have been Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Bill Nelson of Florida, and Jon Tester of Montana, given that all three are likely to take some political flak from voters back home. But on paper, if you combine the number of undecided red-state Democrats (such as Indiana’s Joe Donnelly and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin) with those representing states with sizable Jewish constituencies (like New Jersey’s Cory Booker and Pennsylvania’s Robert Casey) the path to 67 no votes is still in play. The longer senators take to make up their minds, the more likely it is they’ll end up opposing.

Is that actually true, though? Given the public opposition to this deal, the time to oppose it would be sooner rather than later to gain the benefit of aligning with the consensus. The trick to opposing public consensus is not to get way out in front and take the beating for longer than necessary. It may also be that those inclined to vote for the deal are leaving the public relations on it to the White House, and hope to get lost in the last-minute shuffle.

That may not be entirely possible in this case, especially with the Israelis so vocal and united in their opposition to the deal, and now perhaps with this understanding of “inspections” for the IAEA. For decades, we have seen Israel as the bulwark of Western democracy in the Middle East, beset on all sides by radical Islamism, especially for the last 15 years. That will matter to both voters and politicians here, Kraushaar notes:

Support for Israel has long been one of those issues transcending partisanship; it’s a core voting issue for conservative Republican voters, and has long been a bedrock principle of the Democratic Party. But Obama’s deal with Iran has scrambled the calculus for many rank-and-file members, given Israel’s aggressive opposition to it. Unlike with the free-trade legislation, Republicans are united against Obama, and public opinion has turned against the president. Still, since the president only needs one-third of Congress to support him, all he needs is for traditional partisan instincts to kick in and he should get enough Democratic support. That’s why he framed the debate over the deal in such stark terms during this month’s speech at American University.

Unfortunately, the defection of key Democrats such as Chuck Schumer, Steve Israel, and Bob Menendez (which was expected) undermined that argument. It cast Obama as needlessly partisan and more than a little desperate to get Congress to play along. It probably did him no harm amongst those on Capitol Hill who still have truly not decided which way to go, but it may erode his standing on foreign policy even further with the public, which could play into calculations among the so-far uncommitted.

There is one more dynamic that may push those into Obama’s corner. The President has framed this as a stark choice between peace and war, and some may wonder whether they want to be responsible for the consequences of rejection. Obama and John Kerry will carry the burden of failure if this deal turns out to be a disaster, and some may well decide to let them carry history’s scorn rather than have themselves carry the what-ifs of history in rejecting the deal. That will be a mistaken calculation — a nuclear Iran will stain all those who failed to stop the deal when they had the chance — but it seems much more likely that Democrats will be looking for any excuse to throw in with Obama and Kerry on this. Bet on the late breakers going substantially with Obama.