During the president’s State of the Union address on Tuesday, Obama contradicted himself mightily.
During a self-congratulatory moment (one of many) in which the president took credit for isolating Vladimir Putin’s Russia by imposing onerous economic sanctions on Moscow, Obama noted that America “leads not with bluster, but with persistent, steady resolve.”
A few minutes later, Obama made the case that increased sanctions on a nuclearizing Iran are tantamount to a declaration of war.
There are no guarantees that negotiations will succeed, and I keep all options on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran. But new sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails — alienating America from its allies; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again. It doesn’t make sense. That is why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress. The American people expect us to only go to war as a last resort, and I intend to stay true to that wisdom.
That is some flagrant illogicality. So much so, in fact, that even Democrats cannot ignore it.
“I have to be honest with you, the more I hear from the administration and its quotes, the more it sounds like talking points that come straight out of Tehran,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) in a hearing on Wednesday. “And it feeds to the Iranian narrative of victimization when they are the ones with original sin.”
While probing newly confirmed Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken, Menendez forced him to concede that the Iranian nuclear program had not been halted, was continuing apace, and that the White House is keen to overlook the regime’s regular skirting of the terms of agreements with Western powers.
Menendez has joined with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and drafted bipartisan legislation that would impose new sanctions on the Iranian regime if it violates the terms of a nuclear deal or abandons the negotiations process. If that bill reaches Obama’s desk and he follows through with his veto threat, it sets the stage for a real fight with Congress that could precipitate the first veto override of Obama’s presidency.
According to The National Journal, the possibility that Congressional Democrats might be forced to repudiate the president in that fashion is real and growing by the day.
Twelve Democrats in the Senate have in the past cosponsored legislation to impose sanctions on Iran. If they all continue to call for the sanctions, it would put the Senate close to the two-thirds majority necessary to override Obama’s veto; supporters would need just one more vote if all 54 Republicans support the bill.
Obama has vetoed only two bills in six years, and neither was overridden. More vetoes are likely on tap now that Republicans control both chambers of Congress—on issues ranging from the Keystone XL pipeline to Obama’s executive actions on immigration—but no current issue other than Iran seems as likely to attract the number of Democrats necessary for an override.
Democrats aren’t yet willing to discuss bucking Obama in such a public fashion, according to aides, but the possibility is certainly there. It’s difficult for any lawmaker to vote against a punishment for Iran, and those who are frustrated with how the talks are going could egg everyone else on.
Even stalwart Obama allies like Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) are expressing serious doubts about the direction of Obama’s approach to foreign affairs.
— margaret brennan (@margbrennan) January 21, 2015
It is unclear if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s forthcoming address to a joint session of Congress is going to make Democrats more comfortable with the idea of overriding a presidential veto. More likely, his speech will have the opposite effect. It seems, however, that leading Democratic figures are transcending partisanship in order to oppose this White House’s approach to nuclear negotiations with Iran. That could set the stage for a major presidential embarrassment in the coming year.