Republican-led opposition unlikely to scuttle Iran deal

Friday 07/08/2015
US Republican presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, talks to demonstrators across from the White House in Washington, on July 23, 2015.

Washington - Intensive lobbying is under way in Washington by pro­ponents and opponents of the Iran nuclear deal. The US Congress has begun a 60-day review process that will end with a resolution to either approve or re­ject the deal.
Facing nearly unanimous Re­publican opposition, US President Barack Obama, a Democrat, is hop­ing that enough Democrats sup­port him to prevent a veto-proof two-thirds majority against the deal. And Obama is counting on the American public to persuade reluc­tant Democrats to side with him.
Although the vote is expected to be close, Obama is likely to prevail.
Republicans were quick to de­nounce the Iran nuclear agreement before they even read it. Every Re­publican leader in Congress and nearly every Republican presiden­tial candidate sharply criticised the deal. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., accused the Obama administration of want­ing to reach “the best deal accept­able to Iran rather than actually ad­vancing our national goal of ending Iran’s nuclear programme”.
Senator Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said the deal would give Iran billions of dollars to finance terrorism against the United States and its allies and would ultimately “pave the way for Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon”.
During testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Commit­tee on July 23rd, US Secretary of State John Kerry was the object of personal scorn. Committee Chair­man Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who is normally measured in his com­ments, told Kerry that he had been “fleeced” in the negotiations. Sena­tor Jim Risch, R-Idaho, told Kerry that he had been “bamboozled”.
Kerry gave a spirited defence of the agreement. Addressing ac­cusations that the administration “failed to obtain a better deal”, Kerry said it was unrealistic to in­sist on Iran’s “complete capitula­tion” as many wanted. He said Iran has extensive knowledge of the nuclear fuel cycle and “we can’t bomb” or sanction “this knowl­edge away”.
Kerry warned that if Congress rejected the nuclear agreement it would mean the United States would be “walking away from every one of the restrictions we have achieved” and would be giv­ing Iran “a green light to double the pace of its uranium enrichment”. Kerry said the deal was “the best chance we have to solve this prob­lem through peaceful means”.
Obama has said that, while he welcomes a “robust debate” on the merits of the agreement, he would veto a resolution of disapproval. Opponents of the deal would need a two-thirds majority to override the veto.
This translates to 290 votes in the House and 67 votes in the Senate. As Republicans control both hous­es of Congress, they are assured of simple majorities but they say they can persuade enough Democrats to oppose the president and reach a two-thirds majority. Although Republicans may succeed in reach­ing 290 votes in the House, get­ting two-thirds of the Senate will be much more difficult. Obama is looking to muster 34 votes from Senate Democrats to prevent a veto override but the lobbying efforts on both sides have been intense and likely will remain so.
The White House is expected to maintain a sustained campaign in favour of the agreement until Con­gress votes on it in mid-September. The agreement’s opponents, mean­while, have started a major televi­sion advertising campaign against it.
Polls of the American people on the issue have been mixed. A Wash­ington Post/ABC poll indicated 56% of Americans questioned said they support the nuclear agreement, while 37% oppose it. But a Pew Re­search Center poll showed of the 79% of American respondents who said they had heard of the agree­ment, 48% disapproved of it and 38% approved of it.
The discrepancy lies in how the question was framed. The Pew poll asked people if they had heard of the agreement and “from what you know, do you approve or disap­prove?” The Washington Post/ABC poll asked a longer question: “As you may know, the US and other countries have announced a deal to lift economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for Iran agreeing not to produce nuclear weapons. Inter­national inspectors would monitor Iran’s facilities, and if Iran is caught breaking the agreement, economic sanctions would be imposed again. Do you support or oppose this agreement?”
Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and a presidential candidate, said Senate Democrats face a “stark choice”: stand with Obama on the nuclear deal or stand with the American people. Obama is hoping there is not much daylight between Senate Democrats and the Ameri­can people, at least as expressed in the Washington Post/ABC poll. But he will need to continue to press the agreement’s merits to ensure victory.