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Two senators join Iran deal camp, leaving Obama one shy of win

As Chris Coons and Bob Casey back deal, talk shifts from whether Obama can sustain veto to whether he will need to use one at all

Democratic senators Bob Casey, left, and Chris Coons both expressed support for the Iran nuclear deal on September 1, 2015. (AP Photos/Andrew Harnik)
Democratic senators Bob Casey, left, and Chris Coons both expressed support for the Iran nuclear deal on September 1, 2015. (AP Photos/Andrew Harnik)

Two US senators declared their support for the Iran nuclear deal Tuesday, all but clinching a political victory for US President Barack Obama and spelling the looming failure of Republican efforts to frustrate passage of the deal.

With the support of Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey and Delaware’s Chris Coons announced Tuesday, Obama needs the backing of only one more lawmaker to secure a major foreign policy victory in the face of intense opposition.

The senators were the 32nd and 33rd Democrats or independents to declare backing for the deal. The support of 34 senators will sustain an Obama veto of expected Republican legislation to quash the controversial pact with Iran.

“We are better off trying diplomacy first,” Coons said of the accord in a Washington Post interview ahead of his official announcement.

The Delaware lawmaker said he deliberated over whether to support the nuclear deal for months, and concerns the deal could potentially violate Israel’s security made the decision particularly difficult.

“This is, for them, a matter of life and death,” Coons said. “That’s not light, that’s not easy.”

Republican critics of the deal had been hoping to convince at least seven Democrats to cross the aisle and oppose the deal, but so far managed to convince only two — senators Chuck Schumer of New York and Bob Menendez of New Jersey.

Casey said that the deal was the best way to curb Iran’s nuclear program.

“This agreement will substantially constrain the Iranian nuclear program for its duration, and compared with all realistic alternatives, it is the best option available to us at this time,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

Coons told the Post that his concerns over Israeli security, and fears of the Iranians pursing a military nuclear program if they waited out the pact’s 10-year timeline, were calmed by Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in recent weeks.

“They are saying what I need to hear,” he said of Biden, Obama and other administration officials who assured him of the deal’s implementation mechanisms.

Coons also said recent talks with European diplomats, who assured him that EU powers were ready to enforce the deal, also helped sway his decision to back Obama’s diplomatic initiative.

Ultimately, the senator said he was convinced that the July 14 agreement reached between Iran and six world powers in July was the most effective way to monitor the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

In this July 16, 2015, file photo, Vice President Joe Biden, right, walks with Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., left, after arriving for a meeting with Democrats on Capitol Hill in Washington. Determined to secure support for the Iran nuclear deal, President Barack Obama is making inroads with a tough constituency-- his fellow Democrats in Congress. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
In this July 16, 2015, file photo, Vice President Joe Biden, right, walks with Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., left, after arriving for a meeting with Democrats on Capitol Hill in Washington. Determined to secure support for the Iran nuclear deal, President Barack Obama is making inroads with a tough constituency– his fellow Democrats in Congress. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

Earlier in the day, Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, predicted Obama would get to 34 votes by week’s end. A vote on the deal, reached July 14, is expected later this month.

With 34 votes looking to be in reach, supporters have begun aiming to get 41 votes, which would block the disapproval resolution from passing in the first place, and spare Obama from having to use his veto pen. Cardin, who said he remains undecided, didn’t address that possibility.

In a session with students at Johns Hopkins University, Cardin discussed the pros and cons on each side and said his decision will be made on which approach is likeliest to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state. Either decision carries risks, Cardin said.

“I think it’s a tough call and I sort of bristle when people say this is such an easy decision, why haven’t you made it. I don’t think it is an easy judgment call,” Cardin said. “I think there are high risks either way.”

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