Israel’s ambassador to the United States implored congressional Republicans on Wednesday to scuttle President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran and Western powers as the White House dispatched senior administration officials to Capitol Hill to make the case for the accord.
The intense lobbying on both sides of the issue reflected the importance of the pact for Obama, seeking a foreign policy capstone in the final months of his presidency, and the fierce opposition from Israel to the accord with Tehran. Congress this fall will cast the most significant national security vote since 2002, when it backed President George W. Bush on invading Iraq.
Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., said Ambassador Ron Dermer’s main argument during a nearly hour-long meeting with 30-40 House Republicans was “pay less attention to all the details” like centrifuges and years, and “pay more attention to who’s on the other side of the ethical debate, and that is Iran.”
Congress is in the midst of a 60-day review period of the deal designed to slow or halt any attempt by Iran to produce nuclear weapons in exchange for the lifting of economic and other sanctions.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said he invited Dermer to address a weekly breakfast of conservatives and about 40 members attended.
Dermer’s message, according to King, was: “‘Congress is the last stop to avoid this, and if this Congress doesn’t shut down the president’s deal … it paves the way for not just a nuclear Iran but a very highly powered nuclear Iran, and it changes the dynamics in the region, it changes the destiny of the world.’”
There was discussion of the possibility of overriding an Obama veto. “That’s the pivot point on this altogether is can we in this Congress do something that would be historic and that’s overriding a presidential veto on an agreement of this nature,” King said.
Countering that argument are Secretary of State John Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who planned to hold back-to-back classified briefings for House and Senate members Wednesday afternoon.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, promised tough questions from lawmakers at the sessions. “A bad deal threatens the security of the American people — and we’re going to do everything possible to stop it,” he told reporters.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the burden of proof is on the administration to explain the deal, and “it seems the administration today has a long way to go with Democrats and Republicans alike.”
“Is this deal really about keeping America, the region, and the world safer, or is it simply a compendium of whatever Iran will allow — an agreement struck to temporarily take a difficult strategic threat off the table, but one that might actually empower the Iranian regime and make war more likely?” McConnell asked at the start of the Senate session.
One by one, Republicans then rose on the Senate floor to criticize the deal.
The agreement is scheduled to take effect unless lawmakers vote to thwart it, and the Republican-controlled House and Senate are expected to approve legislation in September to do that by preventing the lifting of congressionally imposed sanctions.
Obama has already threatened to veto the bill, but Republicans would try and override his veto. If they prevail, Iran could abandon the deal as its parliament plans to vote around the same time as the U.S. Congress.
Support from 34 members of the Senate or 146 members of the House would assure Obama of prevailing in the veto struggle.
In a boost for Obama, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., a member of the Democratic leadership, said on Tuesday that he supported the deal.
“Strong leaders of nations such as the United States meet and talk to their enemies and negotiate when it’s in their national interest,” Durbin said.