During remarks at the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Hillary Clinton defended the Iran deal, now almost certain to make it through Congress intact, as imperfect — but far better than “good enough.”
“Is it perfect?” she asked. “Of course not. No agreement like this ever is. But is it a strong agreement? Yes, it is.” Clinton added that “as president” she would follow a “distrust and verify” approach with Iran and would “take whatever actions are necessary to protect the U.S. and its allies. I will not hesitate to take military action.”
She added that the idea of a better deal was a fairy tale. “If we walk away now,” Clinton said, “our capacity to sustain and enforce sanctions will be severely diminished. We will be blamed, not the Iranians.”
For those who disagree, she said, “I have a hard time respecting those who approach issues as serious as this with unserious talk, especially anyone running to be president of the United States. Several Republican candidates boast they’ll tear up the agreement in 2017. That’s not leadership, it’s recklessness.”
A few hours later outside the Capitol, several of those Iran-deal-hating Republican candidates Clinton mentioned — plus Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and around 1,000 tea-party ralliers — gathered to bash the agreement she had defended using the exact language that she had made fun of.
“Any commander in chief worthy of defending this nation should be prepared to stand up on January 20, 2017 and rip to shreds this catastrophic deal,” said Senator Ted Cruz, who invited Donald Trump to the rally and would very much like to win back his supporters if the front-runner falters. Trump likes Cruz, too. “It is a little bit of a romance,” he told the crowd during his remarks. “I like him. He likes me.”
Trump, who walked onstage to R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It,” was most interested in criticizing the intelligence of those who crafted the deal in his speech. “Never ever, ever in my life have I seen any transaction so incompetently negotiated as our deal with Iran,” he said — noting that he was an expert in “wonderful deals.” He added, “We are led by very, very stupid people. Very, very stupid people.”
Under a Trump presidency, he argued, there would be no losing to Iran because of loser leaders who craft loser deals. America will start winning. “We will have so much winning if I get elected,” Trump bragged, “that you may get bored with winning.” After the crowd rewarded him with applause, he added, “I agree: You’ll never get bored with winning!”
Trump did not explain how he would be able to win so much as president — a spate of promised victories that would make him the most winningest president of all time; although a Trump presidency would be shocking, it seems unlikely that it would be able to startle checks and balances or the general attrition of presidential approval into nonexistence.
Last week, however, Trump told MSNBC that he would not tear up the Iran deal if elected. “Politically, and certainly for the nomination, I would love to tell you I’m going to rip up this contract, I’m going to be the toughest guy in the world … but you know what? Life doesn’t work that way.”
He added that he would renegotiate the deal: “I will make that agreement so tough, and if they break it, they will have hell to pay.” Jeb Bush has also said that it’s “important to be mature and thoughtful about this” and refused to say he’d tear up the deal as president.
During Sarah Palin’s speech, a protester was ejected from the crowd after approaching the stage. Shortly before, Palin spoke about police officers. “Since our president won’t say it,” she said, “since he still hasn’t called off the dogs, we’ll say it: Police officers and first responders all across this great land, we got your back! We salute you!”
Palin later added, “Only in an Orwellian Obama world full of sparkly fairy dust blown from atop his unicorn as he’s peeking through a pretty pink kaleidoscope would he ever see victory or safety for America or Israel in this treaty. You don’t reward terrorism. You kill it. You don’t lift sanctions, you crack down on their assets. You cut off their oil and drill, baby, drill for our own.”
Regardless of how the rally’s message resonated with voters, it seems unlikely that the Iran deal can do anything but succeed at this point. Forty-two senators support the nuclear agreement, enough to ensure that Congress couldn’t override a veto of an anti-Iran-deal resolution — or enough to filibuster a vote, preventing the resolution from even passing, although it’s not clear that all the Democrats who support the deal are willing to prevent a final vote.
The Senate began debating the deal on Wednesday afternoon — Democrats standing up to mostly support the agreement, while Republicans gave speeches deriding it. Senator John McCain argued that the deal “embodies, and will likely exacerbate, the collapse of America’s global influence that is occurring under this administration.” Senator Brian Schatz said if the U.S. tried to get a better deal, “things will fall apart.”
In the House, a few conservatives have delayed the start of debate on the anti-Iran-deal resolution, arguing that Obama has not submitted all the details of the agreement to Congress — and alleging secret side-agreements — thus voiding the September 17 deadline. However, regardless of when the deadline occurs, the deal’s opponents still lack the votes to doom the deal.
Congress has eight days to voice its opinion on the Iran deal before legislators and presidential candidates shift to arguing about a potential government shutdown.