July 16, 2015

Foreign Affairs Committee Democrats Show Some Fight in Defense of Nuclear Deal

Rep. Connolly (D-VA) – Photo Credit AP

Washington, DC – At a hearing at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs this Tuesday, Congressional Democrats began to do what they had largely neglected to for months: they defended the Iran nuclear agreement, stood by its merits, and took its hardline opponents to task.

The hearing, which came just hours after a nuclear agreement was announced, was touted as part of an effort to educate Representatives ahead of a likely vote on whether to strike down the nuclear accord reached by Iran and six world powers. Congress will have 60 days to evaluate and potentially vote on the agreement once it is submitted by the White House at the end of this week. It featured four panelists— three of whom were noted Iran hawks who rejected the deal outright or expressed grave reservations about its parameters mere hours after it had been released.

“Shouldn’t we at least look at it and talk to scientists?” asked Representative Gregory Meeks, a Democrat from New York. “We haven’t gone to the IAEA, we haven’t gone to Vienna, we haven’t talked to our partners in these negotiations— that’s our responsibility as congress, don’t you think?”

He beseeched his colleagues to “learn a lesson,” from the Iraq war, “because we’re still paying for that, where we didn’t do everything we could first.” The deal, Meeks concluded “at least gives us a choice, a chance” to avoid another devastating conflict.

Next to get involved was Gerald Connolly (D-VA). A vocal supporter of the talks even before the hearing, he confronted the suggestion of one witness, former Senator Joe Lieberman, that the United States could demand that the current deal could be renegotiated.

“I don’t know anybody who believes that that has any high probability of success,” Connolly said. “if we disavow this agreement P5+1 falls apart, and Iran races, not walks, to accelerate its nuclear development program.”

“We have to weigh those risks,” Connolly continued, “and at least the agreement in front of me limits those risks.”

Despite these statements, the hearing was loud with alarmism regarding the deal’s “sunset-clause,” which makes its terms expire after a number of years. According to some panelists, this makes an Iranian nuclear bomb inevitable. Within this context, it was Brian Higgins (D-NY) who engaged with these concerns most emphatically.

“Nobody knows specifically what will happen— but what could happen is normalization with the rest of the world,” Higgins said. “the promotion of a more diversified, legitimate economy in Iran could in fact undermine the current regime and produce the kind of changes the vast majority of young Iranians want.”

The forcefulness of these statements contrasts auspiciously with earlier hearings, where House Democrats were largely absent or silent as hawkish panelists and legislators ceaselessly berated the negotiations.

But there’s still much work to be done to keep the agreement alive, and this hearing was just the beginning of what’s sure to be a grueling political battle. Yet the fact that these Democrats have decided to come out and fight for the deal’s survival— that, at least, is a good sign.

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