POLITICS

Here Are The Wobbly Democrats Who Could Make Or Break The Iran Deal

Things are looking up for the Obama administration.

UPDATE, 9/2/15: Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) on Wednesday became the 34th senator to announce that she would support the nuclear deal with Iran, which means the White House now has the votes to sustain any eventual presidential veto of a resolution of disapproval. In order to filibuster and stop such a resolution outright, a total of 41 Senate Democrats must get on board. Check out our running tally here

PREVIOUSLY:

WASHINGTON -- The nuclear deal recently negotiated with Iran faces a final hurdle in Congress before it can be implemented.

Republicans and a handful of Democrats have committed to passing a law that would revoke President Barack Obama’s ability to provide some of the sanctions relief promised to Iran as part of the agreement reached on July 14. As the vote, expected in the Senate during the second week of September, draws closer, momentum has built within the Democratic Party to preserve the nuclear accord, and Congress no longer appears to have the votes to kill the deal.

With a Republican majority in both the House and the Senate, an initial resolution of disapproval of the Iran deal could pass with limited bipartisan support, which would prompt Obama to veto the bill. In order for his veto to hold, the president needs 34 senators or 146 House members to stick with him in support of the agreement, which provides sweeping sanctions relief to Iran in return for the Iranians dismantling much of their nuclear infrastructure and surrendering their program to invasive inspections.

The House is considered an easier playing field for Obama, since Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is a strong backer of the deal and has proven adept at holding together her caucus.

But much of the speculation has focused on the Senate, which as of Sept. 2 has 34 members publicly backing the deal -- meaning Obama now has the votes he needs to sustain a veto. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) has even suggested that the chamber may get 41 Democrats to support the nuclear accord, meaning Obama might not have to use his veto power at all. A full list of Senate Democrats currently supporting the agreement can be found at the bottom of the article. 

The Huffington Post has evaluated the positions that the remaining members of the Senate Democratic caucus are likely to take, based on public statements, voting histories and conversations with officials and congressional staff members. The analysis indicates that two additional undecided Democrats are likely to back the deal, bringing the number of pro-deal voters to a probable 36.

Another seven senators are wavering, but may be convinced by public pressure or by the Obama administration -- which is heavily lobbying all of the fence-sitters -- to come around to supporting the agreement. If all seven senators came along, it would bring the total to 43, which would mean the initial resolution of disapproval would fail. 

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) are the only Democrats who have publicly indicated that they will vote down the deal.

VERY LIKELY YES, BUT NOT OFFICIALLY SO (2)

Michael Bennet (Colo.) @senbennetCO

“A good deal could bring greater stability to the Middle East, more security throughout the world, and help avoid escalation in the region,” Bennet said on July 14. The Colorado Democrat is close to the White House and up for re-election in 2016.

Joe Manchin (W.Va.) @Sen_JoeManchin

The red-state Democrat has said he is leaning towards backing the agreement. "Everybody says there is a better deal," he told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” in late July. "What options are on the table or even basically discussed I could consider voting for?

"I'm leaning very strongly to saying, OK, let's try going along with the P5+1,” he continued, referring to the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, which collectively negotiated the deal with Iran.

Manchin backed two rounds of sanctions legislation in the past two years that were opposed by the Obama administration, which claimed that the timing of the sanctions could upend the negotiations with Iran. However, the senator eventually withdrew his support for one of the bills, citing a desire to give the negotiators a chance to succeed.  

ON THE FENCE, BUT BEING LOBBIED HEAVILY (7)

Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) @SenBlumenthal
Blumenthal was an original co-sponsor of the two consecutive efforts to pass additional sanctions in the midst of negotiations. However, his July 14 reaction to the deal was neutral: "I welcome the announcement of an agreement with Iran after a long and difficult diplomatic road,” he said. "While our common hope may be that diplomacy has succeeded in barring an Iranian path to nuclear weapons capability, Congress must apply exacting standards and strict scrutiny, especially given Iran’s history of deceit and international law violations."

Cory Booker (N.J.) @corybooker
Booker has yet to issue a statement and is currently juggling his loyalty to Obama and his ideological support of peace and diplomacy with pressure from pro-Israel lobbying groups, who gave Booker significant backing during the last election cycle. Earlier this year, Booker heeded the president’s call to resist voting for new sanctions.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who is close to Booker, admonished the senator on Twitter, suggesting it was hypocritical to quote Tupac saying "They have money for war but can't feed the poor" while also casting a vote that could lead to war.

Maria Cantwell (Wash.) @SenatorCantwell
“It’s a really busy time around here and people are trying to do other things,” Cantwell told Politico shortly before the August recess. “And so if you don’t have to decide in the next two days, then people will take their time.” Cantwell has given no other public indication of how she’ll vote.

Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) @SenatorHeitkamp
Heitkamp was one of the original co-sponsors of the bill that provided Congress with the opportunity to vote on the Iran deal -- which, in its original version, faced a veto threat from Obama. Although Heitkamp stayed quiet after the initial announcement of the deal, she has since posted the entire text of the agreement on Medium and encouraged her constituents to read up.

She recently advocated lifting the export ban on U.S. oil, arguing that if Iran’s oil industry received sanctions relief, U.S. oil exports should be allowed to flow freely -- an indication she thinks the nuclear deal is likely to go into effect.

Heitkamp is likely to find herself under pressure from her sizable progressive women's donor network. Her supporters was disappointed by her vote against background check legislation, but cheered when she opposed Larry Summers' bid for chairman of the Federal Reserve. Many of those donors are pushing for approval of the Iran deal. 

Gary Peters (Mich.) @Peters4Michigan
Peters has not yet issued a statement on the Iran deal, but was a co-sponsor on the most recent sanctions legislation. As the lone freshman Democrat, Peters is unlikely to make waves by breaking with a president of his party on the cornerstone of the administration's foreign policy agenda.

Mark Warner (Va.) @MarkWarner

Warner has not yet indicated which way he’ll vote, but recently pushed back on critics who accused the Obama administration of rushing into a bad deal to cement the president’s legacy. “I find it remarkable that some members seem to impugn that you are not there trying to do the best deal possible for the United States of America and for long-term prospects of stability in the region,” he said to Sherman, the lead U.S. negotiator, during a recent Senate Banking Committee hearing.

“I’ve got more due diligence to do,” he said at the time about his position on the deal.

Ron Wyden (Ore.) @RonWyden
“I said all along I was skeptical that Iran’s leaders would agree to dismantle their nuclear weapons program and I have questions about whether this agreement accomplishes that, particularly in light of Iran’s history on this issue," Wyden said on July 14. "However, I will use my seat on the Senate Intelligence Committee to thoroughly review the details."

Wyden, who is Jewish, is up for re-election in 2016 and has been a top recipient of funding from pro-Israel groups, the most powerful of which oppose the Iran deal. However, Wyden abided by the Obama administration’s requests to hold off on new sanctions.

DEFINITELY NO (3)

Ben Cardin (Md.) @SenatorCardin

Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations committee, said Friday he will oppose the deal. He reasoned that after 10 to 15 years, the deal would "leave Iran with the option to produce enough enriched fuel for a nuclear weapon in a short time." 

Bob Menendez (N.J.) @SenatorMenendez
A known Iran hawk and the author of nearly every piece of recent sanctions legislation against Iran, Menendez announced Tuesday that he would not support the Iran deal. He also slammed the agreement in his initial statement: “I’m concerned the redlines we drew have turned into green-lights; that Iran will be required only to limit rather than eliminate its nuclear program, while the international community will be required to lift the sanctions, and that it doesn’t provide for anytime-any-place inspections of suspected sites. The bottom line is: The deal doesn’t end Iran’s nuclear program – it preserves it.” 

Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) @SenSchumer
The incoming Senate Democratic leader was the first member of his party in the Senate to officially come out against the deal. “I will vote to disapprove the agreement, not because I believe war is a viable or desirable option, nor to challenge the path of diplomacy. It is because I believe Iran will not change, and under this agreement it will be able to achieve its dual goals of eliminating sanctions while ultimately retaining its nuclear and non-nuclear power,” Schumer wrote in a statement.

While this position did not come as a surprise, it was met with harsh rebuke by progressive Democratic groups, who have vowed to withhold funding from Schumer and other Democrats who oppose the nuclear agreement.    


*The senators who have publicly pledged to back the Iran nuclear agreement are: Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Angus King (I-Maine), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)

This story is an updated version of a previous post, and will continue to be updated as senators announce their positions. 

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