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August 20, 2015

Momentum in Congress Favors Iran Deal But Battle Not Over

Washington, DC – NIAC Action Executive Director Jamal Abdi released the following statement:

“As the August recess continues, key Members of Congress have continued to come out in favor of the Iran nuclear deal. The endorsements include Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI) Jack Reed (D-RI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Ed Markey (D-MA) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO), as well as key voices in the House including Representatives Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Paul Tonko (D-NY). This support continues to build momentum toward a firewall to protect the agreement from Congressional rejection, and should be commended, though the battle is far from over.

“Despite the millions of dollars being spent to kill the deal, the opposition has only been able to produce two Democratic Senators who oppose the deal and zero viable alternatives to the negotiated agreement,” stated Jamal Abdi, NIAC Action’s Executive Director. 

Although 26 Senators – more than half of those that caucus with Senate Democrats – now support the agreement, 18 Democratic Senators remain undecided. 34 are needed to sustain a potential Presidential veto, whereas 41 could prevent a Congressional resolution of disapproval from ever passing. With this week’s gains, the latter goal could be within reach. “The focus in the Senate should now be to prevent a resolution aimed at sabotaging the deal from ever passing,” according to Abdi.

Those opposed to the deal did pick up another Democratic Senator this week. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) made his long-expected opposition official, joining Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) as the only Senate Democrats opposed. “Sen. Menendez’s opposition to a deal supported by nearly the entire international community, leading scientists, and non-proliferation experts calls into question the rationale behind his support for sanctions in the first place,” stated Abdi. “If Menendez is unwilling to ever trade in sanctions, he must admit that they are not a negotiating tool but instead an excuse for unending confrontation. With no viable diplomatic alternative presented by either Sen. Menendez or other knee-jerk opponents of the agreement, one can only assume that he either wants to keep sanctions in place indefinitely, or favors military conflict over an achievable, verifiable deal.”

Menendez and other opponents suffered an unmitigated setback yesterday when Sen. Donnelly announced his support for the deal. “Donnelly is one of the first true swing votes in the Senate to take a position,” said Abdi. “He is an Iran hawk. He was an original cosponsor of the controversial sanctions bills in 2014 and 2015 that were opposed by the White House. Yet he has come around to support this hard won deal.”

 Sen. Reed’s endorsement is also particularly noteworthy given that he is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee. With McCaskill joining Reed, Donnelly and Hirono this week, ten of the twelve Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee have come out in support of the deal. “They clearly believe the vote on the Iran deal is a decision between war and peace, and are voting for diplomacy to succeed,” said Abdi. “Senators who remain on the fence should follow their lead.

Separate from the Senate, House Democrats including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) remain confident that they will be able to reach the goal of more than a third backing the Iran deal, yet dozens of Representatives have not yet indicated which way they will vote. A significant amount of work remains to ensure that the deal is safe in the House, as in the Senate.

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