WASHINGTON — Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell and three other Democratic senators announced Tuesday that they would back President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, apparently securing the White House enough votes so Obama will not be forced to veto a Republican resolution disapproving the accord.
The White House, which had worked aggressively with congressional Democrats to build support for the agreement, had been hoping to avoid the diplomatic embarrassment of Obama being forced to use his veto to defeat a disapproval resolution.
And as critics in Congress prepared to begin a historic debate on the Iran agreement, the support of the four senators — Cantwell, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Gary Peters of Michigan and Ron Wyden of Oregon — meant that the Republicans would not have the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster of the resolution. Forty-two Democrats now back the agreement.
Cantwell was the last Democratic senator to announce her position, and she did so in curt remarks to reporters standing in a basement corridor of the Capitol as she arrived to cast a vote on the confirmation of a federal judge.
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“I’m for the deal,” she said as she walked quickly to a senators-only elevator, adding that her office would issue a formal statement.
But while the White House appeared to clinch a victory, Senate Democrats on Tuesday began their own procedural maneuvering. They argued that the Republicans should move immediately to a final vote on the resolution, but one that would require 60 votes for adoption. That would spare the Democrats from criticism that they had refused to allow an up-or-down vote on the disapproval resolution, thereby stifling debate on one of the most important foreign policy questions of modern times.
Republican leaders, however, showed no indication that they would give Democrats even the slightest reprieve. Congress, back from a monthlong recess, began its deliberations on a resolution disapproving the deal Tuesday, and Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, will headline a rally on Capitol Hill Wednesday.
Opening the Senate’s debate Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., implored Democrats to “resist attempts to obstruct a final vote and deny the American people and Congress the say they deserve on this extremely important matter.”
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., responded that Republicans were decrying the 60-vote threshold, even though they had used it effectively many times when they were in the Senate’s minority.
As Congress began its debate, the battle over the Iran deal also raged off Capitol Hill.
Speaking at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, former Vice President Dick Cheney said the outcome of the nuclear deal “could well be catastrophic.”
“With the removal of restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile program, this agreement will give Iran the means to launch a nuclear attack on the U.S. homeland,” Cheney said. “I know of no nation in history that has agreed to guarantee that the means of its own destruction will be in the hands of another nation, particularly one that is hostile.”
Cheney’s remarks counter those of former Secretary of State Colin Powell, whom the former vice president famously sparred with when they both worked under President George W. Bush. Powell, appearing Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” called the pact with Iran “a pretty good deal.”
“Now, people will say, ‘No, can’t trust them.’ I don’t trust them,” Powell said of Iran. “I say we have a deal, let’s see how they implement the deal. They don’t implement it, bail out. None of our options are going.”
The rhetorical volume on the Iran debate will likely increase at Wednesday’s anti-deal rally. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP vice-presidential nominee, also has signed up to speak at the “Stop the Iran Deal” rally.
For all the drama leading up to this week’s debate, the other five world powers who helped negotiate the agreement — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — have made clear they have no desire to return to the bargaining table and are likely to ease sanctions against Iran and put the agreement in place regardless of the view ultimately expressed by Congress.