WASHINGTON (AP) — Just hours after announcing a landmark nuclear agreement with Iran on Tuesday, the White House launched a robust lobbying campaign to persuade skeptical Democrats in Congress to approve the deal.
Vice President Joe Biden started calling his Democratic colleagues on Capitol Hill and plans to head to the House on Wednesday to brief Democrats. President Barack Obama and senior members of Obama’s national security team also are calling members of Congress to brief them on the contents of the agreement that is well over 100 pages long.
After receiving a copy of the pact, lawmakers will have 60 days to read the fine print, vote yea or nay — or take no action.
Soon after it was announced, Democrats expressed skepticism about the agreement under which Tehran would curtail its nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in relief from international sanctions that have been crippling the Iranian economy.
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“I will only support it if this deal prevents every Iranian pathway to develop a nuclear weapons capability,” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., who listed several other provisions he will check in the agreement.
Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, joined many other Democrats who said verification provisions will determine whether they support it. “Without verification, this is a useless agreement,” Hoyer said.
Republicans were uniform in their opposition, with House Speaker John Boehner saying the GOP would do what it can to undermine the deal.
“In the coming days, Congress will need to scrutinize this deal and answer whether implementing the agreement is worth dismantling our painstakingly constructed sanctions regime that took more than a decade to establish,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Iran continues to be the lead sponsor of terrorism in the world and relieving sanctions would make the Tehran regime flush with cash and could create a more dangerous threat to the United States and its allies.”
If Congress votes to disapprove the agreement, Obama reiterated Tuesday that he would veto the measure. A two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate would be needed to override a veto.
“That’s not a scenario that we think is going to happen,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Air Force One en route to Philadelphia. He said the administration feels confident that if lawmakers can take off their political hats and focus on the details of the deal “there’s a lot in here to like.”
Even the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he doesn’t see how Congress can prevent the deal from being implemented.
“You can’t stop it,” McCain said. “It can be unraveled. It can be undone by a Republican president who cares about the security of this nation.”
The foreign policy committees in both chambers — and possibly other panels on intelligence and the armed services — are expected to begin holding hearings next week. It appears unlikely, though, that Congress will take any formal action before the August recess, when they most certainly will hear from constituents on the issue.
When it comes to a vote, all eyes will be on Democrats to figure out whether they will back the deal brokered by the administration or turn their back on the president, as many of his fellow Democrats did in a recent battle involving trade negotiating authority for presidents.
Two key senators to watch:
—New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the No. 3 Democrat in the chamber who has strong ties to Jewish donors. Schumer issued a cautious statement, saying he planned to carefully study the agreement before making a decision on whether to support the deal.
—Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “There is no trust when it comes to Iran,” Cardin said. “In our deliberations we need to ensure the negotiations resulted in a comprehensive, long-lasting and verifiable outcome that also provides for snap-back of sanctions should Iran deviate from its commitments.”