WASHINGTON — Gathered outside the steps of the Capitol under a blazing sun, a coalition of right-wing organizations gathered to oppose the Iran deal, but while the rhetoric against President Barack Obama blazed as hot as the sun, speakers and audience members spared little vitriol for the Republican leaders in Congress.
Three Republican presidential candidates — Senator Ted Cruz, mogul Donald Trump and former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore — all took the stage to condemn the nuclear agreement, but speakers also accused the Republican leadership of tacitly giving in to the administration.
Attendees booed at the mention of Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell minutes after the House floor debate on the Iran deal ground to a halt due to an internal uprising among conservative Republicans in the House.
Speaker after speaker called on McConnell and Boehner to support claims made by Rep. Peter Roskam and the conservative House Freedom Caucus that the administration had not provided the documents necessary for Congressional review of the deal. After that the message diverged; some argued that this rendered the deal completely irrelevant, while others said that Congress would have 60 days after receiving the additional documents to review and vote on the deal.
Hundreds of attendees displayed a wide assortment of signs, including one that read “Boehner McConnell — Repugnicant Traitors.” Others wore Revolutionary War garb, carrying the yellow “Don’t tread on me” banner, which has come to symbolize the Tea Party movement; and another carried a shofar, which he trumpeted in support of the speakers.
Cruz greeted the audience in his shirtsleeves to loud applause, telling them that they were facing “a lawless president.”
Cruz warned businesses that “if this president behaves illegally and says you can hand this money over to Iran — that does not exempt you from having to uphold the law.” US banks, he said, would be subject to “billions of dollars in civil liabilities and litigation” if they facilitate trade with Iran under what Cruz described as an illegitimate agreement.
“Mitch McConnell and John Boehner can stop this deal if they simply enforce federal law,” Cruz asserted. “If Republican leadership decides that a show vote is more important than stopping this deal, then the single biggest issue in 2016 will be stopping Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”
The Republican candidate, who is trailing in the polls behind front-runners Trump and Ben Carson, said that any presidential candidate “should be ready to stand up in January 2017 and rip up this catastrophic deal.”
Trump, who took the stage shortly after Cruz, has said that he would not “tear up the deal,” but would rather look for loopholes and weaknesses in its text.
Conservative Republican lawmakers, who stood at the heart of Wednesday’s uprising against McConnell and Boehner, continued to hammer at the leadership throughout the long afternoon rally.
Rep. Louie Gohmert credited the activists gathered outside of the Capitol with driving a reticent Republican leadership to delay the vote. “You figured out the sham,” he told the cheering crowd, which had been standing for over two hours in near 100º F heat. “You understood that if that happened, then Obama would release the money and he would go forth as if the treaty had been ratified and this would be an agreement that would be enforceable against the United States.
“The good news is that the vote that was scheduled at 1:30… has been stopped,” he continued to more cheers. “Congratulations. You are making a difference. Now we have a conference of Republicans at 4:00 and it looks like they’re willing to change the song.”
Trump, the leading GOP candidate for the presidency who has not shied away from attacking fellow Republicans in the past, was more oblique in his criticism, telling a cheering crowd that “America is being led by very, very stupid people.”
He promised that if he won the election in November 2016, three Americans being held in Iran and one who has disappeared in the Islamic Republic would be returned immediately. “I guarantee you those prisoners will be back in the country before I take office,” he said. “I’m telling [Iran] right now.”
Under a Trump presidency, he pronounced, “we will have so much winning if I’m elected, you might get bored with winning.” The audience quickly rejected that proposition. “You’re right!” he exclaimed, “we’ll never get bored with winning!”
Conservative talk show host Charles Levin spoke following the front-runner, turning the focus back toward the Capitol dome that rose behind his podium, sheathed in scaffolding due to structural repairs. He condemned what he described as “the capitulation of a Republican Congress.
“The Republicans control that building behind us right now. You see that scaffolding back there? They should take some of that and use it on their damn spine,” he admonished, accusing the Republican leadership of “recklessly and deliberately avoiding any direct confrontation with an imperial president.
“They can stop this. They can invoke the treaty clause right now. They can suspend the filibuster rule and vote against lifting sanctions right now,” he continued. “Tell the Republicans in Congress it’s time to step up, enforce the constitution and defeat this disastrous deal.”