The Iran Deal Is About To Cause A Massive Headache For John Boehner And Mitch McConnell

The rally opposing the Iran deal featured a shofar, Sarah Palin, an Obama punching bag and plenty of heat.

WASHINGTON -- On the grounds along the west side of the U.S. Capitol Wednesday afternoon, Ivin Lee held a tall sign that stood out even among a crowd fairly bristling with poster board.

"#JewishLivesMatter Ask GOD," it read in bold black handwriting.

Lee, wearing a light gray T-shirt that was just starting to show outlines of sweat from the day's unforgiving heat, stared at the stage where conservative pundits and Republican politicians would soon speak against the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by six world powers.

"Are you Jewish?" The Huffington Post asked Lee.

"No," he replied. "I'm not."

As he spoke, the Foo Fighters song "Learn to Fly," which had been playing, died down. Onstage, the emcee turned to one of the first pressing orders of business that had nothing to do with Iran: wishing Matt Boyle, a reporter for Breitbart News, a happy birthday. The crowd then recited the Pledge of Allegiance, with many people emphasizing the words "under God." Afterward, a shofar sounded, and a man with a large Israeli flag circled the crowd.

"I'm an adopted Jew, too," a nearby attendee told Lee. It soon transpired that the man was actually Catholic -- but, he said, he felt a fellowship with Jewish people. He and Lee spoke for a bit, and then Lee turned his sign around to reveal a second message: "Boehner + McConnell: Repugnicant Traitors."

"All they had to do was treat this as a treaty," said Lee, making the case that the deal wouldn't now be on the verge of passing if Republicans had insisted on requiring 67 votes in the Senate, rather than a simple majority. "They surrendered that, and now they are gonna come out here and pretend they're fighting the deal? It's crazy. They surrendered!"

Wednesday's rally was informed by a simple premise -- that the deal to curb Iran's nuclear program is not just fundamentally misguided, but is an existential crisis imposed upon America by its own leaders. That message was hammered home by speaker after speaker, including GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and media personality Glenn Beck. With typical bombast, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) declared that President Barack Obama is poised to become "the world's biggest financier of terrorism." He warned the Democrats who support Obama that "[you] cannot wash your hands of that blood."

But many members of the crowd had a different target for their anger. In their eyes, yes, the administration was wrong to negotiate the Iran deal. But it was acquiescent and feeble Republican leaders in Congress who helped pave the way for the deal's passage.

"They are not doing what they can be doing," said Jim Richardson of McKinney, Texas, describing his anger with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). "There is something rotten in Denmark."

"It's not Republican leadership," explained Wayne from Sterling, Virginia, who declined to give his last name. "It's kissing Obama's butt." 

Wayne from Sterling, Virginia, said the GOP leadership wasn't actually leading.
Wayne from Sterling, Virginia, said the GOP leadership wasn't actually leading.

Tracey Anderson, who drove all the way to Washington from Indianapolis, said her advice to the GOP leadership was to either "quit" or "grow a backbone."

Tracey Anderson from Indianapolis stands to the right of signs opposing the Iran deal.
Tracey Anderson from Indianapolis stands to the right of signs opposing the Iran deal.

As a matter of principle, the GOP base is perpetually disappointed when it comes to its leadership. Boehner in particular, and McConnell more recently, have spent much of their time in power trying to navigate flare-ups with more rock-ribbed conservatives. But those have mainly pertained to domestic matters. The Iran deal was supposed to be a clear-cut case of unified opposition.

To a significant extent, this has in fact been the case. Every single Republican member of Congress opposes the deal.

That wasn't quite good enough for many at Wednesday's rally, though. They want the deal dead.

Congress is considering the Iran deal through a resolution of disapproval of the accord, and Obama has vowed to veto any legislation that interferes with the agreement's implementation. This means that the deal only needs the support of one-third of either chamber of Congress, plus one more member, to be veto-proof. Obama currently has 42 senators supporting the accord, meaning Congress cannot reject it.

Since Republicans are now powerless to treat the deal as a treaty, attendees at Wednesday's rally had a number of other suggestions about how to avoid what they see as a looming disaster.

One man at the rally who declined to give his name, and who claimed he was a former Defense Department official, suggested that the Senate suspend the filibuster so it could pass a resolution of disapproval with a simple majority vote. Then, he said, it could promptly "reinstate the filibuster."

"It's that important," he said. "Iran can float a nuclear weapon up the Tidal Basin if this goes through!"

Other attendees urged Congress simply not to vote at all. Under current law, members get a 60-day review to vote on a resolution expressing their disapproval of the deal. But a popular theory at the rally held that since the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran have a separate deal governing the procedures for inspecting suspected nuclear sites, the review period doesn't actually have to start until those arrangements are public.

Cruz suggested that if the deal passes, opponents would be wise to file lawsuits against companies that do business with Iran once the sanctions are lifted.

And if procedural subterfuge and post-facto legal threats don't do the trick, then rally-goers would at least like to see a little more kicking and screaming. Pointing to the scaffolding on the Capitol building behind him, radio host Mark Levin said that Republicans "should take some of that and use it on their damn spines."  

Sitting in some of the little shade available, Doug Carlson of West Virginia held up a sign urging the GOP to "wake up."

"Loser," he said, when asked for his take on Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who helped negotiate the bill to give Congress its 60-day review. "Sellout," he added, when playing word-association for McConnell.

Doug Carlson and his wife, both of West Virginia, said they're frustrated with politicians from both parties. 
Doug Carlson and his wife, both of West Virginia, said they're frustrated with politicians from both parties. 

For over an hour, these laments piled up. And up the hill, it was almost as though lawmakers were listening. As the rally took place, House conservatives were pursuing the theory that the review process had not yet started (because of those IAEA side deals), forcing GOP leadership to delay the start of consideration of a resolution disapproving the deal. There was even growing talk of legal action.

All of this maneuvering just seems like a way to forestall the deal's inevitable passage -- since a vast majority of Republicans, Cruz included, have already agreed to the existing procedural setup.

But for one afternoon, at least, conservative voters seemed willing to believe that by sheer will, they could change this dynamic -- or give their leaders hell trying.

Standing to one side of the stage, Gilbert Vincent held the shofar he had been blowing throughout the event. It was, he explained, a real ram's horn straight from Israel.

"If it brought down the walls of Jericho," he said, "I'm hoping the Senate will hear it too."  

Video produced by Amber Ferguson.