WASHINGTON — In a last-minute show of support for the administration, Democratic Senators Richard Blumenthal, Ron Wyden and Gary Peters all announced Tuesday that they would support the Iran nuclear deal and vote against a resolution of disapproval later this week.
The senators’ announcement brought the total of Democrats supporting the deal to 41, enough to potentially allow them to filibuster the resolution and prevent it from coming to a vote at all.
In his announcement, Blumenthal unveiled a framework, co-authored by a prominent Democratic opponent of the Iran deal, to strengthen Israel and mitigate Iran’s ability to further influence the region.
The Senate is expected to begin debate on a resolution of disapproval of the deal on Tuesday afternoon. The Republican majority – together with a handful of Democratic senators who oppose it – are expected pass the resolution – but only if a vote can actually be held.
In order for cloture to be called, allowing debate to end and a vote taken, 60 senators must vote in favor.
It is not yet clear if Democrats will pursue that strategy, which would keep US President Barack Obama from having to pull out his veto pen on the resolution of disapproval.
The decision came hours after West Virginia’s Jon Manchin said he would oppose the deal, the fourth Democratic senator to go against Obama. Only Maria Cantwell of Washington had yet to announce a decision by Tuesday afternoon.
Blumenthal acknowledged that the decision “has been a difficult one,” and said that he made it “on the basis of conscience and conviction.”
“My two paramount goals have been to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran and do so by peaceful means,” wrote Blumenthal in a statement announcing his decision late Tuesday morning. “I believe the proposed agreement, using diplomacy, not military force, is the best path now available to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.”
Like other Democrats who announced that they would support the administration’s position, Blumenthal acknowledged that the agreement between the P5+1 member states and Iran was far from perfect. “While this is not the agreement I would have accepted at the negotiating table, it is better than no deal at all,” he wrote, insisting that “it can be made even better through unilateral American action and collaboration with our European allies.
He announced in his statement that together with deal opponent Senator Ben Cardin, he would propose legislation that “will begin the process of addressing the shortfalls, unwanted impacts and consequences revealed during congressional review of the agreement.”
The legislation, he said, “will provide for effective “snap-back” policies regarding sanctions, enhance security assistance to Israel, and improve oversight and strict adherence to the agreement.”
Congress, he said, “must sustain and expand existing sanctions that crack down on terror financing and demand their full enforcement by both the United States and the European Union.”
He also proposed, that in the shadow of the deal, “we need a new framework of defense cooperation – that takes into account how this agreement will affect the changing threat from Iran.”
“Congress must work to expand Israel’s qualitative military edge and bolster intelligence cooperation. The Pentagon must establish new joint training exercises that involve our strategic air assets, and invite Israeli pilots to train to fly long-range bombers,” he listed as part of that new framework. “No equipment should be precluded if needed for Israel’s self-defense.”
Blumenthal stressed that as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he would “work to establish such a parallel agreement with Israel to cover threats, both nuclear and conventional, along with an ongoing joint review forum, bringing together the United States, Israel and NATO members to enhance our deterrent capabilities.” Adding that “similar self-defense efforts should be undertaken for our other Middle East allies.”
Like Blumenthal, Wyden wrote in the announcement of his decision that “this decision has been as difficult as they come.”
He also noted, like his colleague that “this agreement with the duplicitous and untrustworthy Iranian regime falls short of what I had envisioned,” but added that he has “decided the alternatives are even more dangerous.”
Wyden, who was one of only 23 senators to oppose the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, reiterated that his “bottom line for any agreement has always been that an Iranian nuclear weapon is unthinkable.”
“There is no need to debate the finer implications of an Iranian bomb,” he continued. “In the hands of a theocratic regime with stated genocidal goals it would be an existential threat to modern civilization. It is the fundamental obligation of all civilized nations to prevent any government or group that has declared as its goal the destruction of another nation or people from acquiring and deploying such a weapon by any and all means.”
While noting that “Iran is the largest supporter of state-sponsored terrorism in the world” and that “tt is very disturbing that in all probability, a large portion of the funds derived from sanctions relief will flow to Hezbollah and other groups working to destabilize the region,” Wyden also argued that if the US were to reject the agreement, Iran will still receive sanctions relief from America’s allies.
Wyden said that he and others have secured from Obama “written commitments that the administration will treat cheating, however small, as a serious problem warranting a strong response and that our allies will stand with us against Iranian violations, regardless of the commercial interests that may develop over time.”