WASHINGTON – As of now, the number of senators supporting the nuclear agreement with Iran stands at 41, seven more votes than President Obama needs to sustain his veto of a predicted Republican resolution of non-support for the nuclear agreement with Iran. However, if the agreement is saved that way, opponents of the deal could be in a better position to weaken it later.
If all 41 senators hold fast and support a filibuster, the need for a veto could be eliminated because the Republicans could be blocked from voting on any resolution at all.
The question is: do the Democrats have the stomach for going the filibuster route? Minority Leader Harry Reid, D.-Nev., the point person for such a move, is not saying.
One senator, Joe Manchin, D.-W.V., announced that he was so appalled by the discussion of a possible filibuster that he will now vote against the deal even though he previously had pledged to support it.
His decision is not a surprise because it has been known all along that when it became clear the deal was safe he would protect his right flank in conservative West Virginia by joining Republicans in opposition.
The deal, officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was negotiated with Iran by U.S., the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia and Germany. It calls for the lifting of economic sanctions that have been crippling Iran in return for Iran agreeing to develop nuclear power for peaceful uses only.
The JCPOA has been praised by scientific and economic authorities around the world. Polls show that the majority of Americans support it.
However, the manner in which the agreement is affirmed in the U.S. is important because it is neither a treaty nor a law. It is an agreement between heads of state, which means it can be weakened by legislative action or abrogated altogether by a new president. Opponents in the U.S., including gambling casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and the right-wing-backed American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), have spent some $40 million in the past several weeks for TV and newspaper ads against the deal, and have relentlessly lobbied lawmakers to make sure it is defeated. AIPAC operatives have threatened to spend millions of dollars to prevent the re-election of lawmakers supporting the deal.
Even though sustaining the agreement is now certain, it could very well be that the opposition plans to find ways of watering it down.
Republicans in both the House and Senate have already announced that despite the deal, they will work to strengthen sanctions against Iran and every single Republican candidate for president has pledged that, if elected, he will abrogate the agreement.
Not a single Republican supports the agreement, so it is certain that resolutions to scuttle the deal will pass in both the House and Senate. Obama has said he will veto these resolutions and unless both houses override the veto, the deal will survive. It is now certain that the Senate will not override.
However, if the agreement survives by a veto only, opponents attempting to water it down later will argue that the deal was opposed by the majority of lawmakers in the first place.
If the deal survives without a veto, opponents will still try to water it down in the future, but justifying their actions will be more difficult.
Photo: Sarah Walsh/AP