White House Gets its Veto-Sustaining Support for Iran Deal as 34th Senator Approves

By Patrick Goodenough | September 1, 2015 | 8:16pm EDT
Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif led the Iranian team in the talks with the U.S. and five other world powers that produced the JCPOA in July. (Photo: Fars news agency)

(Update:  Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland on Wednesday became the 34th Democratic senator to declare her support for the Iran nuclear agreement, giving President Obama the support he needs to uphold his veto of a GOP-led resolution disapproving it.  See earlier story below.)

(CNSNews.com) – If Congress as expected votes after Labor Day to disapprove the Iran nuclear agreement, President Obama will almost certainly be able to veto the resolution safe in the knowledge that his action will not be overturned.

Thirty-three Senate Democrats have now signaled that they support the deal negotiated between Iran and six world powers, and that they will oppose a Republican-led joint resolution disapproving it.

Thirty-four senators – one-third of the Senate plus one – are sufficient to sustain a presidential veto.

Furthermore, if eight of the remaining 11 undeclared Democrats join the pro-agreement column, the GOP measure could be defeated by filibuster. That would shield Obama from having to use his veto pen, but also be highly controversial given the strong bipartisan support for the original legislation allowing Congress to review and vote on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

With Republicans in the Senate universally opposed to the JCPOA, at the outset they looked for just 13 Democrats to join them to garner a veto-proof majority. But over a summer characterized by strong lobbying on both sides, and numerous statements of support or opposition from expert and other quarters, that target steadily grew less attainable.

On Tuesday, Sens. Chris Coons (D-Dela.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) declared their support for) the nuclear deal, leaving the White House just one senator short of the target.

The 11 yet to declare are Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)

Like some of his colleagues who had come out in favor of the agreement over recent weeks, Coons characterized the JCPOA as far from what he had hoped for.

Bur in a speech at the University of Delaware he said the alternative to the deal was “a scenario of uncertainty and [U.S.] isolation.”

“I am voting to support this agreement not because I think it is perfect, or because I believe it is the mechanism to end nuclear proliferation in the region,” Coons said. “I am voting for this agreement because it is our most credible opportunity to lead a global community in containing an existential threat while preserving America’s ability to use economic power and military might to successfully dismantle a nuclear program should diplomacy fail.”

Casey explained his position in a comprehensive statement that quoted at length from experts supportive of the deal. He called his decision to back it “one of the most difficult” of his career, and made it clear that he viewed Iranian violation a possibility.

“As a result, I believe this agreement must be undergirded by a clear and unequivocal statement from both the administration and the Congress: we are prepared to take military action if Iran attempts to develop a nuclear weapon,” he said.

That call – for a clear declaration of policy from Obama, backed by Congress, that the U.S. will use force if necessary to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb – has been heard increasingly in recent weeks by lawmakers skeptical of Iran and the JCPOA.

Coons and Casey have long been viewed as relatively hawkish on Iran. In 2013, they were among 10 signatories to a bipartisan letter to Obama, saying they would accede to an administration request to hold off on new sanctions against Tehran only if the regime agrees to suspend uranium enrichment – a demand contained in several U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The four other Democrats who signed that letter include the only two – Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) – to have come out publicly in opposition to the JCPOA. The remaining two were Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who has yet to declare her position, and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who has joined Coons and Casey in supporting it.

In the event, the Iranians were not pressed by the U.S. or its P5+1 negotiating partners to suspend enrichment. Despite a history of covert activity and cover-ups, the JCPOA will allow them to continue enriching, although with some restrictions.

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