Iran deal criticized by noted conservative... Chuck Schumer?

If you read nothing more than the title of this Politico piece you might think that Senate Democrat majority leader in waiting Chuck Schumer was spitting in the President’s corn flakes. The tone being taken by several morning show talking heads is similar, suggesting that Chuck has suddenly jumped ship and is siding with Republicans in rejecting Obama’s “framework” with Iran.

Chuck Schumer bucks White House on Iran
The top Democrat throws his weight behind legislation to give Congress power to reject a deal.

Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, one of Capitol Hill’s most influential voices in the Iran nuclear debate, is strongly endorsing passage of a law opposed by President Barack Obama that would give Congress an avenue to reject the White House-brokered framework unveiled last week.

The comments Monday by the Democratic leader-in-waiting illustrate the enormity of the task ahead for Obama and his team: While there’s no guarantee that Congress would ultimately reject an agreement with Iran, there’s an increasingly bipartisan consensus that Congress should at least have the ability to do so.

“This is a very serious issue that deserves careful consideration, and I expect to have a classified briefing in the near future. I strongly believe Congress should have the right to disapprove any agreement and I support the Corker bill which would allow that to occur,” Schumer said in an emailed statement to POLITICO.

You have to dig down a bit further in the article and then recall some of Schumer’s history on the hill to really get the full flavor of what’s going on here. First of all, this “strong endorsement” is not a call for the rejection of the deal. I suspect Chuck doesn’t much care for it (more on that below) but he’s also not the sort to go running completely off the Democrat ranch either. Let’s keep in mind that the Corker bill does not reject the Iran deal. It reserves the right for Congress to review the deal and to freeze the lifting of any sanctions for a set period of cool-down time. Endorsing the bill doesn’t mean that Schumer is onboard with rejecting the framework, just that he’s willing to assert the authority of Congress as a coequal branch to be involved in the process.

But Schumer might not have even gone this far – particularly when his star is on the rise in the party’s leadership structure – had it been any other subject than Iran. That’s because it has such a profound impact on Israel. You’ll recall that I previously said that Schumer wouldn’t be an upgrade from Harry Reid and that he’s about as far to the Left as one can get. That’s still all true, but there is one subject where Chuck is well known for crossing the aisle. He’s one of the leading Jewish voices in the Senate and has always veered away from his party when it comes to all things Israeli. One of the best examples was the hatred he drew from Palestinian loving progressives when said that the Gaza blockade made sense because Israel needed to strangle Gaza economically until they saw the light. (Schumer is also rather famous for his heavy Wall Street ties which ticks off the Elizabeth Warren wing of the party, but everyone is willing to give him a pass on that because, well… they all like money.)

Chuck’s positions regarding Israel are the exception rather than the rule, and the rest of the Democrat herd is willing to forgive him the occasional jaunt away from Liberal doctrine when it comes to that subject. But this current brouhaha only underscores the fact that Schumer has a rather unsteady tightrope to walk between now and when he officially replaces Harry Reid. He needs to act like a strong, independent leader, particularly if he winds up being the Senate Minority Leader under a Republican president. But he can’t afford to be so independent that he angers his own base. Toss in his complicated relationship with his colleagues over Israel and you can see why he would back the Corker bill just to keep his options open, but expecting him to actually go to bat against Obama over it is hardly a slam dunk. This may be little more than window dressing when the entire passion play finishes rolling out.