Prospects of Iran deal in US Congress remain uncertain

Prospects of Iran deal remain uncertain in US Congress one month before congressional review vote

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Since a nuclear deal was reached on July 14 between Iran and the P5+1 powers, US President Barack Obama has been lobbying to convince Republican majority Congress to ratify the deal.

Although it is most likely that Congress can sustain a simple majority to reject the deal, Obama said he would veto any legislation that would impose new sanctions on Iran or prevent him from suspending the existing ones.

Overriding the president’s veto would require the approval of two-thirds of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, in which case the Republicans would need the support of dozens of Democrats.

The nuclear deal is already under congressional review and the legislative body has until Sept.17 to ratify or reject it. Meanwhile, lobbyists from defenders of the deal and the ones opposed to the deal are working full force to turn the outcome in their favor.

Although two parties say they will not party vote, Democrats are planning to back their president's agenda, while almost all of the Republicans are opposed to the deal since they believe it will only serve Iran by providing a path to the bomb.

White House lobbyists were hoping that Republican Senator Jeff Flake, who was undecided on the deal for a long time, would break from others from his party and support the agreement. However, on Saturday the senator from Arizona  announced his opposition to the landmark deal.

House representative and a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, Walter Jones, who is watched closely by pro-deal lawmakers since he showed his support for Obama’s desire to negotiate a deal with Iran, also voted for a law in May that requires a congressional review of the deal.

While almost all of the Republicans signaled their objection to the deal, lobbying efforts against the nuclear deal seem to have been effective on Democrats. Several Democrats announced their opposition to the deal, while some announced that they will not take a bipartisan stance in evaluating the deal.

One of them is Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer who announced his opposition in early August. Despite opposing the deal, Schumer said he acknowledges Obama’s efforts on the issue, however, he added that “after deep study, careful thought and considerable soul-searching” he decided to vote in favour of a motion of disapproval.

Position of Schumer, who is set to become the next leader of Democrats in the Senate,  may give several Democrats who are skeptical of the nuclear agreement a green light to oppose Obama’s agenda.

Senate needs thirteen democrats to override a veto. In addition to Schumer, Pro-Israel Democratic Senator Robert Menendez also expressed his discontent with the nuclear deal, and said he believes the deal preserves Iran’s nuclear program instead of ending it.

Three other Democrats in the Senate, Joe Donnelly, Heidi Heitkamp and Michael Bennet, who are facing reelection next year in red or purple states, are also seen as possible no votes as supporting the deal may hurt their chances for reelection.

For House of Representatives to override a veto, forty-four members from Democrats are required, assuming all Republicans vote to block the deal. There are already eleven House Democrats who announced their opposition.

There are several more Democrats that might join the opposition caucus. For instance, House minority whip Steny Hoyer, who is a critic of the deal, said he was impressed by the extensive briefing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave against the deal. He said Netanyahu “gave a very rational presentation about why he thinks this deal is not in the best interest of the United States, Israel and the region.”

However, it is still too early to predict failure for the landmark nuclear deal.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi in July wrote to her colleagues to show her support for the Iran nuclear deal. Pelosi’s support is a positive signal for the prospects of the deal in the US Congress.

Experts say it is difficult to override Obama’s veto because an override is up to a relatively small number of Democrats who will likely to stick to Obama’s agenda. Also, some read that opposition stance from the Congress reflects that they don’t want to be responsible if the deal would have negative outcomes on US and its allies. Therefore, experts say, several lawmakers may be leaving the decision to the veto.

A failure to push the deal through the Congress  would hurt Obama's legacy, who already made historical moves by reopening US embassy in Cuba, withdrawing troops from Iraq and killing Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda leader behind 9/11 attacks.


TRTWorld and agencies