The suspense over the ultimate fate of the controversial U.S.-Iran nuclear agreement may have just ended.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California on Thursday endorsed the deal as a “diplomatic masterpiece” and signaled that she and other House Democrats would vote to sustain Obama’s veto of any Republican resolution attempting to block implementation of the deal.
Meeting with reporters on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, Pelosi said she was confident that the agreement would be upheld by the Democrats.
“Everybody was not of one mind on every aspect of every detail of this,” she said, according to a transcript of the press conference. “But [leaders] kept everybody engaged. This is a diplomatic masterpiece, that they stayed at the table and came to the conclusion that they did.”
The deal unveiled in Vienna July 14 by the U.S., Iran and five other major countries has drawn sharp opposition from virtually every congressional Republican and many pro-Israel groups. The historic agreement would require Iran to dramatically scale back its program for developing a nuclear weapons capacity for a decade or more and allow inspections in return for the U.S. and the United Nations lifting tough economic sanctions against Tehran.
Many of the critics have warned that the deal would reward Iran with hundreds of billions of dollars of sanctions relief while allowing Tehran to resume its drive for a nuclear weapon within 10 to 12 years. With Iran eventually free to develop nuclear weapons, they say, Israel and other U.S. allies in the Middle East would be at risk -- and highly motivated to accelerate their own nuclear programs.
Senate and House Republicans are expected to introduce resolutions of disapproval of the deal before a Sept. 17 deadline. Obama has repeatedly vowed to veto such a resolution and it would take the votes of two thirds of the House and Senate to override his action – a high threshold to reach in either chamber.
Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew have been waging a charm offensive for the past two weeks, attempting to temper the GOP attacks while holding the Democrats together. While House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and leading Republican defense experts have been unmoved by the administration’s arguments, as the The Fiscal Times reported this week, the administrations appears to have reduced the threat of widespread Democratic defections.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the former chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, has been leading an effort to block the Iranian nuclear deal, while Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who is in line to become the next Democratic leader, has been leaning against the deal as well, reflecting the concerns of many Jewish constituents in his state.
However, Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, appears to be gravitating to the president’s camp on the issue. Obama would need the backing of a dozen Senate Democrats to uphold his veto of a resolution of disapproval.
While the situation remains fluid in the Senate, Pelosi made it clear on Thursday that Obama would be in good shape in the House. Obama would need the support of 145 Democrats in the House to sustain his veto, a challenge made tougher by a few defections so far and critical statements by Foreign Affairs ranking member Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY).
However, Rep. Dan Kildee, a Michigan Democrat, informed Obama Wednesday night that he would support the Iran nuclear agreement, even though some family members of the longest-held American prisoner in Iran live in his congressional district. Moreover, Rep. Sandy Levin, another Michigan Democrat and a prominent Jewish member of the House, has also signed on to the deal.
During her meeting with reporters yesterday, Pelosi said she was increasingly confident that House Democrats would sustain a veto if it comes to that, which would effectively kill a resolution of disapproval, regardless of what the Senate does with it.
“More and more [House Democrats] have confirmed to me that they will be there to sustain a veto,” she said, according to USA Today, which first reported her comments.