What’s Going to Happen With the Iran Deal Now That Chuck Schumer Hates It?

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Senator Charles "Chuck" Schumer attends The New School University Center Opening Showcase at The New School University Center on January 23, 2014 in New York City.
Photo: Ben Gabbe/Getty Images

Last night, during the attention-sucking Republican primary debate, the Huffington Post reported that Senator Chuck Schumer planned to announce his opposition to the Iran deal on Friday. A day later, aides said that not only was he planning to vote in favor of a resolution disapproving of the agreement, but he would also vote to override a veto

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,” he wrote in a statement published on Medium this morning. “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. Better to keep U.S. sanctions in place, strengthen them, enforce secondary sanctions on other nations, and pursue the hard-trodden path of diplomacy once more, difficult as it may be.”

Those who support the deal did not seem happy. 

MoveOn is asking its donors to stop giving money to those who oppose the deal. “Our country doesn’t need another Joe Lieberman in the Senate, and it certainly doesn’t need him as Democratic leader,” executive director Ilya Sheyman said in a statement. “… Frankly, we thought Senator Schumer and other Democrats in Washington had learned their lesson after being misled into supporting a misguided war of choice in Iraq.” Another political group, CREDO Action, said that “perhaps it is time to change his nickname from Wall Street Chuck to Warmonger Chuck,” according to The Hill. Secretary of State John Kerry said, “I obviously profoundly disagree with the judgments made,” per Business Insider.

One constituent NY1 talked to in Park Slope was so mad about the announcement that he had already called Schumer’s office and left a message on his Facebook wall. 

But will Schumer’s break from the White House on the nuclear agreement do anything more than anger his more progressive supporters and the Obama administration? Could it actually doom the deal? Most people carefully watching the game of chicken being played between the White House and Congress think “no.”

James Fallows wrote earlier this week that whispers about Schumer’s impending disapproval were, in fact, “a good sign for the deal’s prospects in Congress.”

For rococo parliamentary reasons, the crucial voting showdown is still several legislative rounds into the future. First the Congress would have to pass a measure condemning the deal, which Republican majorities in both the House and Senate will certainly do. Then President Obama would have to veto the measure, which he will certainly do. Then the Congress would have to override the veto, which requires a two-thirds majority in both chambers — and this is what the Democrats, even in their diminished numbers, should still be able to block with some votes to spare.

Schumer doesn’t put it this way, but obviously he is hoping that one of those spare votes will be his. His life will be easier in many ways — in minimizing hassle during his upcoming reelection run in New York, and thus maximizing his efforts to help other Democratic candidates so that he has a chance of becoming Senate majority rather than minority leader — if he doesn’t have to spend time explaining away a vote for the deal to his conservative and AIPAC-aligned constituents. If the deal goes through despite Schumer’s opposition, people who support the deal won’t care, and those who oppose it can blame evil Barack rather than valiant Chuck.

Other people have noted the same thing. Per Steve Benen at MSNBC:

This remains a matter of simple arithmetic. Congressional Republicans, no matter how intense their zeal, cannot kill the policy on their own. GOP lawmakers will need no less than 44 House Democrats and 13 Senate Democrats to partner with far-right members to crush the international agreement. At least for now, the deal’s opponents aren’t even close to their goal.

Mike DeBonis at the Washington Post adds that if Schumer wanted to make a splash, he wouldn’t have announced his disapproval in a Medium post. “If Schumer were dead-set on killing the deal,” he writes, “he would have made his intentions known weeks, if not months, ago.” And as a former Schumer staffer reminded Politico, “Never before has Chuck Schumer tried to make news not in front of the cameras, let alone at the same time of a major political event.”

Greg Sargent, also at the Post — while noting that he is “absolutely not saying it is impossible for opponents to sink the deal” — writes that it seems unlikely Schumer’s disapproval will do much more than make his life easier with his pro-Israel supporters:

Does the incoming Senate Democratic leader really want to take the blame for actively helping Republicans sink Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement, one that likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has already leaned into supporting? Doubtful. By voting No — while doing little to prevent the deal from going forward — Schumer can vote his conscience while not seriously undermining his position as Democratic leader. And helping sink the deal would undermine Schumer’s position as leader by further enraging the left.

Chuck Schumer has been waiting a long, long time to be the Democratic dauphin of the Senate. He might not like the Iran deal, but it doesn’t mean he has to dislike it in a way that jeopardizes all of his hopes and dreams — and those of the president of the United States. And White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest didn’t sound too worried when asked about Schumer today, saying it was “not particularly surprising to anybody here at the White House, even if it was disappointing.” As long as they keep enough Democrats onboard to avoid a veto override in September, they’re maybe not too disappointed, though.