More Democratic Senators Support Iran Deal

by James M. Wall220px-SenatorGillibrandpic

Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York and leader of the pro-Israel forces in the Senate, announced on August 6, that he would oppose President Obama’s effort to gain Congressional support for the P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran.

At the time, Schumer’s move was seen as a major setback for Obama. It did not work out this way. Three weeks later, Schumer has been joined by only one other Democratic senator, Robert Menendez, of New Jersey.

Instead of a rush to join the pro-Israel lobby forces in standing with Israel’s opposition to the deal, the number of Democratic senators who favor the deal is growing.

Kirsten Gillibrand (above), the junior Democratic Senator from New York, came out in favor of the agreement on the same day as Schumer’s announced opposition.

As an indication of how the mood in the Democratic Senate caucus is shifting toward favoring the agreement, Senator Gillibrand was an early supporter of the bill which might be described as the kill the Iranian nuclear pact legislation.

That bill, introduced in January, 2014, was co-authored by Illinois Republican Senator Mark Kirk and New Jersey’s Senator Menendez.

Senator Gillibrand is now an announced supporter of the Iran nuclear agreement.

This past weekend, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) joined Gillibrand, by promising not only to vote in favor of the agreement, but pledging to do “everything in my power to ensure that it stands.”

He has been joined by Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, Red State Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, of Missouri, and Tuesday, Senator Patty Murray of Washington State, announced her support of the deal.

If Reid and Minority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) can hold their Democratic caucus to fewer than six defections, Republicans will lack the votes to get the disapproval resolution the 60 votes it needs to clear the Senate. That would spare Obama from having to veto it.

In a Wall Writings posting on July 23, 2015, I wrote:

“In an analysis for Forward, Nathan Guttman, wrote: ‘Thirteen U.S. Senators is all President Obama needs to ensure that the nuclear deal with Iran does not get derailed by Congress’.”

wydenThe pro-Israel forces were targeting a specific 13 Democratic Senators as recently as July 24. The targeted 13 included Senator Schumer, now on the record as opposing, Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly, who has since announced his support of the agreement, and Oregon Senator Ron Wyden (left), whose Jewish parents fled Nazi Germany. 

Senator Wyden remains undecided, but Portland House member Earl Blumenauer, a Wyden ally, has announced he would support the Iran deal. Oregon is a liberal state which also may weigh heavily on Wyden.

Gary Peters, junior Democratic Senator from Michigan, also remains undecided. Some reports indicate he is influenced by his Chief of Staff, Eric Feldman, a strong backer of Israel, who came to work for Peters after working for former White House Chief of Staff and Congressman Rahm Emanuel, also a strong pro-Israel politician. 

Emanuel, however, has indicated his support for the Iran accord. He says he would have supported it were he still in Congress. Emanuel is now Mayor of Chicago.

A New York Times analysis suggested Senator Peters could be guided to support the deal, by “Michigan Representative Sander Levin of Michigan, the longest-serving Jewish House member [who has] endorsed the agreement”.

Another Jewish House member, Democratic Representative Jerrold Nadler, of New York, has endorsed the deal. As a result, he has received strong “personal attacks on his loyalty to Israel, from the Orthodox community in Borough Park”. 

The Democratic caucus in the House is not strong enough to avoid a negative vote on the deal, but a veteran colleague like Nadler, with his strong Jewish credentials, could encourage freshman Michigan Senator Peters to move from undecided to support the agreement.

Congressman Nadler represents a large segment of New York City. His district includes “the largely liberal Upper West Side through conservative Brooklyn neighborhoods of Midwood and Borough Park [and is] said to be the most Jewish congressional district in the country”.

Nadler is the first Democrat from the New York area to support the agreement.

So far, the Republican Senate caucus remains solidly in opposition to the deal. Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake had been targeted for support of  the agreement, but he has announced he will vote with his Republican caucus against the deal.

Meanwhile, outside the halls of Congress, public support for the agreement is growing.

A full-page ad in the New York Times ran on Thursday, August 20, signed by former Jewish leaders who support the Iran deal. “Out of concern for Israel”, these leaders say, they are supporting the deal.

Mondoweiss described signees of the ad as “Big Jews”, former powerful heads of numerous Jewish Federations, a former head of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC, and three former chairs of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

The ad begins with a quote from “former Israeli Navy commander and Shin Bet head Ami Ayalon, who said that ‘when it comes to Iran’s nuclear capability, this [deal] is the best option among those actually available to the international community’.”

The Times ad was organized and published by a non-profit organization, No Nukes for Iran Project, a group assumed to be working with a White House team. 

A group of 51 religious leaders issued a statement of support this week. Their statement is signed with their names and religious organizations.  They give their reason for support:

“After decades of hostility, the international community has crafted a nuclear accord to limit Iran’s nuclear program and prevent the United States from moving closer toward another devastating war in the Middle East.”

The religious leaders also assert that the agreement “will dramatically shrink and impose unprecedented constraints on Iran’s nuclear program. In exchange, the international community will begin to lift sanctions on Iran. It also establishes the most robust monitoring and inspection regime ever negotiated to verify Iran’s compliance with the restrictions on its nuclear program.”

Politicians who endorse the agreement do so with statements hedged with everlasting love and praise for Israel.

So far, however, it appears that U.S. public’s repulsion from the bullying tactics of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his open participation in our political process, may end up as a part of a growth process in which Americans learn more about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

The deadline for a final vote on the agreement has been set in Congress for September 17. It could be close.  The New York Times suggests:

“The last, most important voice might be that of Senator Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee and a religious Jew with his eye on Israeli opinion.

But Mr. Cardin also tends toward optimism on diplomacy, and many Democrats believe he will come out in favor of the nuclear accord — possibly at the last moment.”

This means the final vote may be so close that the outcome could come down to Senator Cardin, “a religious Jew with his eye on Israeli opinion”. Reinhold Niebuhr, who wrote so eloquently of The Irony of American History, must be enjoying this current chapter.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall writings.me, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years.
This entry was posted in Iran, Israel, Middle East Politics, Netanyahu, Obama. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to More Democratic Senators Support Iran Deal

  1. AWAD PAUL SIFRI says:

    Jim, thanks for the excellent analysis of the critical players who will determine “deal, or no deal”, re-Iran. It is obvious that most of those critical players “for”, or “against”, the deal are basing their decision on perceived “Israeli interests”, not American interests. Their primary concerns are certainly not US, but rather, ulterior Israeli motives and objectives.
    No doubt that the US will be able to crush Iran militarily, but like in the case of Iraq, it will not be a “mission accomplished” by any means, either. The US economy, vital US resources, the punishing payment in blood and treasure, a hazardous lack of security around the world, will be overwhelming to the American people, foremost, but also Europe and the rest of the world.
    To top it off, the “day after” will be a shattering scene and a dazzling experience. Americans and Europeans will be asking some very probing and stinging questions about who incited, initiated, and promoted this disastrous war for the sole purpose of maintaining Israel’s nuclear monopoly in the Middle East?
    The answer will be very obvious: It is the war mongers of the ultra-rightist Israeli leadership and the blindly pro-Israel stooges in Congress and the Senate.

  2. Samia Khoury says:

    Actually had it not been for the bullying tactics of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the whole country, and the congress would have been spared so much energy
    on this issue, and any deal approved by the President on any other issue would have passed without all this hoopla.

  3. Erna Lund says:

    As an almost life-long Democrat and constituent of Senators Murray and Cantwell for 30 years, I am ashamed that they both have been such “long-standing holdouts” on the critical Iran Nuclear Agreement. This morning I learned from Senator Cantwell’s Seattle office that she is still on the fence, undecided in her position on the agreement; and then learned that Senator Murray has declared her support for the Iran Nuclear agreement after being a “long-time holdout”–in calling Senator Murray’s Seattle office it was confirmed that she issued a press release(D.C.office) re her formal support for the agreement–interestingly there has been no local/Seattle area news re her decision … Thanks again to you Jim for your usual being “right on top of issues that matter!”

  4. Jane Adas says:

    Very appropriate reading — just before heading to Rep. Pallone’s New Brunswick office to host a Move-On rally and deliver a petition with 1,001 signatures from his constituents. Pallone was in his other NJ office, but his New Brunswick staff let him know we were there. At his request, three of us had a phone conversation with him. Pallone himself made the best argument for supporting the deal, to wit: if congress nixes it, there will be no re-negotiations. The only maneuver left would be for the U.S. to try for more sanctions, which nobody else in the world will go along with, whereas if Congress approves the deal and then Iran cheats, we won’t be isolated in the sanctions effort. Pallone hasn’t yet committed, but I don’t see how he can vote against given that line of reasoning.

  5. Thank you, Jim Wall, for this excellent article about the Iran nuclear deal. I believe that the opponents will not succeed in hindering its enactment. Unfortunately for decades too much attention has been paid to what some Israelis want the U.S. to do with respect to many issues, including Iran and its policies. Most Americans do not know nor remember that Iran was very important to the U.S. and the nations cooperating to defeat Hitler and the Nazis during World War II.
    As a young American teacher, I arrived in Teheran in March, 1945 to work at the American school. Very soon I learned about the vital role Iran was playing on the side of the allies because Iran was permitting the U.S. to ship supplies through Iran to Russia. Without that cooperation, the war might have had a totally different outcome — or lasted much longer. Neither is much attention paid in the U.S. to the fact that Iran has a long history as a major power in the Near East. One of the first things I learned from Iranians, as well as non-Iranians living there, was that Iranians are very proud of their remarkable history – of which Americans learn little. Since so much attention is now focused on Israel, it is unlikely that will change. We need to remember that just as no humans are perfect, there are no nations with perfect records in international affairs.

  6. A pox on them, all of them, and their august (not) chamber. This issue should never have come to such an unseemly, nail-biting, still-unclear denouement. Where is even one senator who has been properly forthright and has stood before his/her peers and the country and said “This agreement — arguably a bitter pill for rational, patriotic Iranis forced to kneel to the hegemons and hypocrites among us in, inter alia, ridding their polity of crippling act-of-war sanctions — would already have been honored with alacrity and relief by the entire international community of nations were it not for the undue, and antithetical-to-U.S.-interests, bullying and myriad other machinations of the Zionist regime of Israel and its current crazed leader (sic) who never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity for peace for his people, the tormented Palestinians, the region, and indeed the world.”? Where, I ask?

    Thanks for the wide scope of your analysis and your integrity, Jim.

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