Congressional lawmakers face at least another week of arm twisting by the Obama administration over the Iran nuclear deal, but some are already looking to the month-long August recess to gin up support for and against the agreement.
Outside groups, such as the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), are putting together multi-million ad campaigns with the aim to sway public opinion. And House Democratic leaders have created an elaborate support network for members who find themselves waffling, or with newfound concerns, during the prolonged break, according to Politico.
Together, the various efforts resemble the debate that dominated the summer of 2009, when President Obama’s controversial healthcare law was headed toward a vote that fall.
Angry town halls, characterized by the testy exchanges between lawmakers and their constituents, gave rise to the Tea Party and cemented conservative opposition to “Obamacare.” A similar scenario could play out before Congress votes to approve or disapprove the Iran deal sometime in September.
“I think you're going to see over the August recess -- I know I'm going to be having town hall meetings on this Iran deal,” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) predicted last week during a cable news interview. “I think everybody ought to hear from their constituents about this deal.”
The GOP has been almost universally united in its rejection of the deal. Many Democrats also remain deeply skeptical that the agreement will prevent Iran from one day obtaining a nuclear weapon.
If the Republican-controlled Congress votes to disapprove the deal, Obama can veto the legislation. In that case, the president needs 145 of the 188 Democrats in the House to back the agreement, and he can’t afford to lose more than 13 backers in the Senate to sustain his veto.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who lost the speakership in 2010 following voter backlash to the healthcare law, is aware the nuclear deal could be a topic of debate during the dog days of summer.
“Of course, we'll be facing tens of millions of dollars of mobilization against the agreement over the August break, or even starting now. But I feel confident in the mobilization of the American people who support this agreement,” she told reporters during her weekly press conference.
The California Democrat rejected the notion that next month would mirror 2009. “These are completely different issues,” Pelosi said after also trashing the idea that Obamacare was the reason Democrats lost their majority in the House.
She acknowledged that “people want to consult with their constituents and their families and their advisors, and that's admirable” but “at the end of the day, it is their vote. Members vote, and members have to vote what they believe.”
Pelosi likened the looming vote the one lawmakers cast in 2002 to approve the Iraq War. “Overwhelmingly, Democrats voted against the war in Iraq. Those who voted for it had a lot of explaining to do later,” she cautioned. Pelosi urged members to “study the information, review the validation on either side of the issue, understand what the decision is, and make a vote.”
On Monday, the liberal organization Americans United for Change released the results of a poll it commissioned that found 54 percent of voters support the nuclear deal and 38 percent are opposed. But while 75 percent of Democrats said they endorse the deal, 54 percent of Republicans oppose it, according to the survey by Public Policy Polling.
For its part, the administration isn’t about to let members of both chambers leave town without getting an earful about the agreement. On Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee to discuss the deal.
It will mark the trio’s second appearance in less than a week to sell an accord. Their first trip, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, revealed the depth of opposition among Senate Republicans to the deal. Panel chair Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who did not outright announce he would vote against the deal, said Kerry and his team had been “fleeced” by Iran during the nuclear talks.
The Cabinet officials are likely to receive an even frostier reception from the House panel, especially from chair Ed Royce (R-CA), who was a strident critic of the administration’s tactics during the months-long negotiations.
Wendy Sherman, the State Department’s top negotiator for the deal, will provide classified briefings to Democratic and Republicans leaders on Wednesday.