Iran deal’s DC opponents down but not out

Iran deal’s DC opponents down but not out

AIPAC urges activists to continue to lobby Congress against deal as legislators consider other ways to sanction Tehran

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Bostonians gather outside the Massachusetts State House on August 30, 2015, to protest the proposed nuclear deal with Iran. (photo credit: Matt Lebovic/The Times of Israel)
Bostonians gather outside the Massachusetts State House on August 30, 2015, to protest the proposed nuclear deal with Iran. (photo credit: Matt Lebovic/The Times of Israel)

WASHINGTON — Although Senator Barbara Mikulski’s announcement that she intends to throw her support behind the Iranian nuclear deal guaranteed victory for US President Barack Obama on Capitol Hill, groups that oppose the current Iran deal redoubled their efforts Wednesday evening, rallying supporters to continue their advocacy against the agreement.

AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittmann emphasized that although Obama can issue a veto when Congress approves a resolution of disapproval later this month, and has the votes to sustain it, his organization “will continue our work to achieve the largest possible bipartisan majority that will reject this flawed deal.”

“We must oppose this deal because it will not block Iran’s path to a bomb and will enrich and entrench the world’s leading state sponsor of terror,” he added.

AIPAC President Robert A. Cohen wrote a letter to supporters hours after Mikulski’s announcement, congratulating the organization’s grassroots for having “stood on the front lines.”

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., the longest-serving woman in the history of Congress, speaks during a news conference which was held to announce her retirement after her current term, in the Fells Point section of Baltimore, Monday, March 2, 2015. (AP Photo/Steve Ruark)
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (AP Photo/Steve Ruark)

“Facing one of the most significant challenges in our movement’s history, your persistent activism— through personal meetings, frequent phone calls, and regular emails to members of Congress — has helped shape the national discourse and illuminate the dangers of this deal,” he told them. AIPAC was the organization most closely associated with the opposition to the deal, and invested political and financial capital, as well as massive grassroots mobilization, into trying to secure a veto-proof majority in favor of a resolution of disapproval — an effort that met failure with Mikulski’s announcement.

But far from issuing a concession speech, Cohen called upon AIPAC members to continue their efforts to lobby the remaining members of Congress who have yet to publicly pick a side.

“Now, days before the congressional vote, I’m writing to ask you to keep fighting for a better deal,” he wrote. “Many members of Congress are still undecided. We must continue to engage them and make our case. We must press our elected officials to insist on a better deal until every vote is cast.”

AIPAC's President Robert Cohen (Courtesy)
AIPAC’s President Robert Cohen (Courtesy)

The short-term goal, for the deal’s opponents, is to reinforce the perception that a presidential veto flies in the face of public sentiment.

“The battle to prevent a nuclear-capable Iran is far from over,” Cohen told supporters. “Ensuring the largest possible bipartisan rejection of this agreement will establish the strongest possible foundation for the Iran policy debate still to come, and will ensure a robust congressional role in that process.”

Wittmann also emphasized that “a bipartisan majority of the American people join the bipartisan congressional majority that will soon vote to reject this deal – while many of the deal’s proponents have expressed severe concerns.”

“We believe that this strong opposition conveys an important message to the world – especially foreign banks, businesses and governments – about the severe doubts in America concerning Iran’s willingness to meet its commitments and the long-term viability of this agreement,” he added.

These “severe doubts” will likely continue to reemerge in the coming weeks and months following the Congressional vote – and will manifest themselves both through Congressional initiatives and campaign rhetoric in advance of the 2016 elections.

Some of the deal’s opponents expect a holding game until the 2016 elections, when a new president – Democrat or Republican – may lack the political will or desire to continue to confront Congress to uphold a deal. In that case, maintaining pressure on legislators to keep the debate over Iran on the front burner would ensure that even an incoming Democrat would have to chose to take on Congress over the deal, or to let Congress take steps against the agreement.

But the deal’s opponents may not even have to wait until a new president is sworn in in January 2017 to see action on Capitol Hill.

Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a frequent participant in congressional hearings regarding the Iran deal said that for the deal’s opponents, “the next steps are to convert the 60 percent bipartisan rejection of this deal by Congress and the deep anguish that many congressional supporters of the deal are experiencing into bipartisan legislation to target the Revolutionary Guards for its support for terrorism and regional violence.”

In both the House and Senate, opponents of the deal have already started considering legislation to beef up still-extant sanctions targeting Iran for its human rights violations. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce has such a bill ready and waiting, and a number of senators – including anti-deal Democrat Sen. Robert Menendez – are reportedly working on similar legislation.

Menendez has also teamed up with Senator Mark Kirk to draft a bill to reauthorize the Iran Sanctions Act, which is set to expire in late 2016. Menendez has argued that without a reauthorization, the concept of “snapback sanctions” in the event of Iranian violations is not applicable.

Both the administration – and the Iranians themselves – have indicated that any new sanctions legislation could endanger the viability of the nuclear deal.

A top Iranian envoy, Ambassador to the United Nations Gholamali Khoshroo, warned the UN Security Council earlier in the summer that Iran “may reconsider its commitments” if the US Congress imposed “new sanctions with a nature and scope identical or similar to those that were in place prior to the implementation date, irrespective of whether such new sanctions are introduced on nuclear related or other grounds.”

If Koshroo’s letter to the Security Council president is any indication, Congressional opponents of the deal could try to stymie the agreement by passing legislation that would back Iran into withdrawing from the agreement.

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