WASHINGTON (AP) — Israel’s ambassador to the United States raced in and out of offices on Capitol Hill, trying to persuade lawmakers that the nuclear deal with Iran is a historic mistake.
On the other side, liberal groups ramped up the pressure, warning of political consequences for Democrats who undermine the agreement and casting opposition as a vote for war.
The lobbying fight is on over the pact that the U.S. and other world powers just signed with Iran. The State Department said Sunday it had submitted the agreement to Congress, kicking off a 60-day review period on Monday.
Multimillion-dollar ad campaigns are underway by politically influential groups in each camp. Some echo the views of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a staunch opponent of the agreement with Iran, which has threatened to annihilate his nation.
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Vice President Joe Biden was on Capitol Hill twice last week for arm-twisting sessions with Democrats. Secretary of State John Kerry and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz — key U.S. negotiators — are set to brief lawmakers this coming week, and they blanketed the Sunday news shows. “I hope there are enough minds still open, ready to consider this on its merits, that could be persuaded,” Kerry told “Fox News Sunday.”
President Barack Obama used his weekend radio address to try to counter what he predicted would be “a lot of overheated and often dishonest arguments” in the weeks ahead about the agreement, and he sent Defense Secretary Ash Carter to talk with officials in Israel as well as Jordan and Saudi Arabia, U.S. allies whose leaders also are worried about the deal’s implications.
Think tanks are releasing reams of reports and analyses. Experts on nuclear weapons and foreign policy are testifying at committee hearings. Right-wing radio hosts are using the airways to condemn Obama for what they say was his caving in to a country that supports terrorist groups. Peace groups are shouting their support.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., ran into Ambassador Ron Dermer three times.
“He is a very informed and persuasive advocate for the Israeli perspective and he is a persistent and thorough critic of the context of these negotiations and he made some very strong points,” Coons said.
The White House knows that the vote to approve or disapprove the deal, expected in September, puts Democrats, especially Jewish members of Congress, in a bind.
The hawkish American Israel Public Affairs Committee is waging an all-hands-on-deck campaign to convince lawmakers that they should reject the deal. AIPAC and other groups and individuals are supporting Citizens for a Nuclear-Free Iran, which on Friday began a multimillion-dollar national TV and digital ad campaign against the accord.
“Democrats should be especially concerned because the deal increases the chances of war, will spur a nuclear arms race and rewards an Iran with a horrific human rights record,” spokesman Patrick Dorton said.
Netanyahu, asked on CBS’ “Face the Nation” whether he would lobby members of Congress, replied: “I feel it’s my obligation as the prime minister of Israel to speak out against something that endangers the survival of my country, the security of the region, the security of the world. And I obviously make my case.”
New York Rep. Steve Israel, the highest ranking Jewish Democrat in the House, acknowledged the lobbying but played it down, saying that jobs and paychecks, not the Iranian deal, will dominate town hall meetings during Congress’ traditional August recess.
The lawmaker said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi’s endorsement of the deal will be, “very influential.” Add the nod from Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, and “it’s a pretty damn good one-two punch” in favor, he said.
The liberal Jewish Middle East lobby known as J Street has come out with a multimillion-dollar national campaign to shore up congressional support for the deal, with ads on network and cable TV.
“I hope it’s decided on the merits of the arguments rather than the volume of the expenditures of the outside groups,” said California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. He has met with Holocaust survivors and a group of Iranian immigrants who do not like the deal.
The National Iranian American Council bought a full-page ad in The New York Times last week in support of the agreement. The group’s #Vote4Peace campaign is targeting certain states and districts and lobbying leaders in Washington. The council says that millions of dollars from casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a strong supporter of Israel and one of the GOP’s most powerful donors “can’t drown out the voices of tens of millions of Americans who want peace instead of war.”
Paul Kawika Martin with Peace Action, founded in 1957, says dozens of political organizations will withhold endorsements and campaign contributions to lawmakers who vote no.
Dozens of liberal groups, including Win Without War, Council for a Livable World, Democracy for America, MoveOn.org. CREDO and Daily Kos, have banded together for a StopWarWithIran campaign, flooding Capitol Hill with thousands of petitions and phone calls.
“Republicans are trying to take us to war by sabotaging the Iran nuclear deal,” their petition to lawmakers states.
Groups on both sides of the issue are laser-focused on New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, likely the next Democratic leader. He is a long-time ally of Israel and represents a state that is home to more than 1.5 million Jews. Schumer has received nearly $259,000 in contributions from supporters of Israel in the past six years, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Schumer’s phone number is plastered on the website of the Emergency Committee for Israel, which has released a 30-second ad to run on New York cable news programs to persuade the senator not to support a deal. “Obama is caving to Iran,” the ad says. “Call Sen. Schumer and tell him he must stand firm.”
Associated Press writer Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.