Many Republicans immediately denounced the Iran deal as “terrible” and “dangerous” before they’d even read it, and over the past two days the president has signaled that he isn’t all that interested in pleading for their support. After daring to compare himself to Reagan and acknowledging “there’s a certain party line that has to be toed” within the GOP, on Wednesday President Obama declared he’s “not betting on the Republican Party rallying around this agreement.” The remark came during an unusually combative press conference, in which Obama also informed a reporter who asked a sassy question that he was talking “nonsense.”
“For all the objections of [Israeli] Prime Minister Netanyahu or, for that matter, some of the Republican leadership that’s already spoken, none of them have presented to me or the American people a better alternative,” Obama said, “Either the issue of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is resolved diplomatically through a negotiation or it’s resolved through force, through war. Those are the options.”
Obama probably felt comfortable taking a less-than-bipartisan stance because its unlikely that Congress can tank the Iran deal — as long as the president shores up support within his own party. Of course, the administration’s first choice would be keeping the Republican-controlled Congress from passing a resolution of disapproval, but if that happens Obama can veto it. An override requires a two-thirds majority, so the deal will go through as long as 146 House Democrats and 34 Senate Democrats stand with him.
Winning a comfortable margin of Democratic support might actually be a challenge. Prominent Senate Democrats including Chuck Schumer, Jon Tester, and Chris Coons say they’re still undecided, and a handful of Senate Democrats were invited to the White House on Wednesday afternoon so the administration could make its case. Vice-President Joe Biden has also been dispatched to help sell the deal to Congress. After working the phones on Tuesday, he spent Wednesday meeting with House Democrats. “The vice president’s starting point was that he opened this as one of the chief skeptics, that he began this process highly skeptical that they could get a good deal and having drilled into this deal he now believes that this deal is not perfect, but worth supporting,” said Congressman Steve Israel, who told The Wall Street Journal he’s still skeptical of the deal. (For Democrats who represent many Jewish constituents, like New Yorkers Israel and Schumer, Israel’s vehement opposition to the agreement is putting them in a tough position.)
On Thursday Biden will be back on Capitol Hill to talk with Senate Democrats, and, according to National Journal, Secretary of State John Kerry and other top administration officials have joined the lobbying effort as well. A few Republicans have received calls from administration officials, but not on the same scale. “I think they had some undersecretary of something call my staff,” Republican Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn told Politico.
Congress has 60 days to review the deal and is expected to hold a vote in September. Republican Bob Corker is leading the GOP review effort, which will involve multiple hearings before the August recess. He and several other Republicans insist that, despite the White House’s partisan assumptions, they won’t make up their minds until the review is concluded. “I am truly going to let this process determine how I vote. Okay? Truly, I am. I think to be in a different place than that is going to make a mockery of all of the effort we went to to cause Congress to even have the role that it does,” Corker told Politico, adding that it’s the White House’s job “to come up here and convince us that our nation, the region, the world is better off with this deal than not.”
Senator Susan Collins says she agrees with her GOP colleague. “I have not reached a final decision because I think it’s premature to do so prior to the administration giving us a thorough briefing,” she said. “I’ve told them it should be next week.”
Corker, Collins, and Jeff Flake (who’s also open to hearing the administration’s view) are among the seven GOP senators who refused to sign a letter to Iran attempting to kill the deal. (While Biden said the move was “beneath the dignity of an institution I revere,” the three senators said they just didn’t think it would be effective or were focused on other matters.) It’s admirable that unlike many of their colleagues on both sides of the aisle, they’re actually taking the time to consider the contents of the agreement. But the Republicans probably won’t receive as thorough a wooing as they’d like. While Politico notes that picking up any GOP support would be a huge coup for the White House, that cuts both ways. Republican lawmakers who don’t serve lifelong terms probably aren’t eager to become Congress’s answer to Chief Justice John Roberts.