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Obama Facing Tougher Than Expected Fight to Sustain Iran Deal

Obama Facing Tougher Than Expected Fight to Sustain Iran Deal

Wednesday, 29 July 2015 06:16 PM

(Bloomberg) -- The Obama administration is confronting a tougher than expected fight with Congress over the Iran nuclear agreement and is scrambling to muster enough votes to ensure it survives, U.S. officials said.

White House officials are increasingly finding themselves on the defensive against criticism from Republicans and some Democrats, as well as vehement opposition from Israel, according to three officials, who all spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal political deliberations.

That battle will continue through the congressional recess in August. One of the officials said the administration is bracing for an all-out effort in the home districts of lawmakers by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the leading pro-Israel lobbying group, to press for rejection of the deal.

Congress has until September to review the accord struck by the U.S. and five other world powers with Iran on July 14. If lawmakers pass a resolution of disapproval -- the likely outcome in the Republican-controlled House and Senate -- President Barack Obama can veto it. Administration officials are counting on having enough Democrats backing the president to sustain a veto, which would stand unless two-thirds of Congress voted to override it.

Officials are delivering assurances to Congress that the administration is prepared to offer additional assistance to Israel and Persian Gulf states and to respond militarily to Iranian misbehavior.

Military Options

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee Wednesday that the U.S. retains all its military options in dealing with Iran under the deal. He said U.S. military options would be “marginally better” with the deal in place because of the increased intelligence gained from international inspections of Iranian facilities.

Secretary of State John Kerry, Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew and Energy Secretary Earnest Moniz also have testified before congressional panels.

The White House sought to project assurance in public.

Deputy White House press secretary Eric Schultz told reporters on Wednesday that the administration was “confident our argument’s going to prevail.” He cited recent statements from Dick Durbin of Illinois, the no. 2 Democrat in the Senate, and Representative Sandy Levin of Michigan, a veteran Jewish Democrat in the House, in support of the deal.

No Odds

At the same time, Schultz refused to say he was certain that the administration had the votes it needs.

“I have other colleagues who are better gamblers than me, so I’m not going to do the odds business,” Schultz said.

Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and a skeptic about the deal, has said opponents would have tough time overriding an Obama veto. On Wednesday, some lawmakers said that assessment still stands.

“You think people are going to run out on the president?” Democratic Representative Jim McDermott of Washington said when asked whether Obama’s fellow Democrats would support him.

That’s because, “the bottom line question is what’s your alternative” to the agreement? Gerald Connolly, a Virginia Democrat and member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said. “So far a lot of the critics don’t have anything remotely to offer.”

Connolly spoke as he was headed to a meeting with members of AIPAC who fanned out across Washington on Wednesday to lobby lawmakers.

Falling Short

“The proposed deal falls short of its intentions to eliminate every Iranian pathway to a nuclear weapon,” AIPAC President Robert Cohen wrote in a July 28 letter to members of Congress. “We urge you to oppose the deal in order to keep the United States and our allies safer.”

Obama personally made his pitch Wednesday during a meeting with House Democrats at the White House. Administration officials said Obama was looking to aggressively engage critics of the deal.

Wednesday’s meeting is only the latest direct presidential outreach to wavering members of Congress. Last week, Obama hosted a dozen House Democrats at the White House to discuss the deal. The administration has made more than 100 phone calls to lawmakers supplementing briefings with members of Congress, according to an official who asked for anonymity to discuss the matter.

‘Very Involved’

Representative Cedric Richmond, a Louisiana Democrat who was among about 20 lawmakers traveling with Obama in Africa earlier this week, said that while he isn’t sure how the final vote will come out, the president is determined to wage the fight.

“I talked to the president about it yesterday on the plane, and I’ve watched him engage in it,” Richmond said, calling Obama “very involved.”

The president has also looked to build support by tapping some of his most reliable backers. Obama will join a conference call on the Iran deal hosted by the Center for American Progress on Thursday, and “discuss the historic deal and its importance to the country and the international community,” according to an announcement sent to members of the administration-aligned policy group.

The White House, State Department, Energy Department, and Treasury Department also have engaged in what the administration has described as contacts with hundreds of leaders of groups representing the Jewish community and organizations for women, veterans and young people. They’ve also enlisted foreign policy experts and former government officials.

Gulf Allies

The administration is working to assuage the concerns of Shiite Iran’s Sunni rivals in the Gulf who, led by the Saudis, have questioned whether Iran can be trusted to honor the accord and how it may use its newfound clout and revenue in a region torn by sectarian conflicts. Many of the same concerns are being voiced by Israel.

Earlier this month, Obama met with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir. While the U.S. president doesn’t typically hold White House meetings with foreign officials who aren’t heads of state, he saw Al-Jubeir at the request of Saudi King Salman.

Carter was dispatched to Israel last week for meetings with officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Carter also traveled to Saudi Arabia.

The White House has attempted to put critics of the deal on defense. Obama has likened critics of the Iran agreement to backers of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

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(Bloomberg) -- The Obama administration is confronting a tougher than expected fight with Congress over the Iran nuclear agreement and is scrambling to muster enough votes to ensure it survives, U.S. officials said.White House officials are increasingly finding themselves...
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Wednesday, 29 July 2015 06:16 PM
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