White House set to lobby House Democrats on Iran deal
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White House set to lobby House Democrats on Iran deal

Agreement architects Kerry and Moniz will seek to head off veto-busting majority in closed-door briefings with party members

US Secretary of State John Kerry and US Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, center, meet with foreign ministers and representatives of Germany, France, China, Britain, Russia and the European Union during the current round of nuclear talks with Iran, being held in Vienna, Austria July 10, 2015 (Carlos Barria/Pool via AP)
US Secretary of State John Kerry and US Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, center, meet with foreign ministers and representatives of Germany, France, China, Britain, Russia and the European Union during the current round of nuclear talks with Iran, being held in Vienna, Austria July 10, 2015 (Carlos Barria/Pool via AP)

Three senior Obama administration officials will speak to House Democrats this week in an effort to secure their support for the nuclear agreement with Iran and head off attempts to scuttle the deal.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) invited Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to hold two briefings for Democrats Wednesday and Thursday.

Kerry and Moniz both led the American side in lengthy negotiations between the P5+1 — a coalition of world powers comprising the US, Britain, Russia, China, France and Germany — and Iran.

Lew will be leading the move to lift US sanctions against Iran if the agreement goes ahead as planned.

The briefings will be classified.

Pelosi has declared her support for the agreement, which faces stiff criticism both domestically and internationally, and will encourage fellow Democrats to back it.

“As you may be aware, I believe that this agreement is a major accomplishment. I am pleased that the response thus far from House Democrats has been so positive,” she wrote to lawmakers on Monday.

If Republicans in Congress decide to move ahead with legislation aimed to kill the agreement, they will require the support of House Democrats to overcome the presidential veto that Obama has already guaranteed he will employ in such a scenario.

Obama said last week that that he hoped Congress’s upcoming decision on the agreement would be “based on the facts — not on politics, not on posturing, not on the fact that this is a deal I bring upon us as opposed to a Republican president, not based on lobbying but based on the interest of the United States of America.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, December 5, 2014 (Photo credit: J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, December 5, 2014 (Photo credit: J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

There are 46 Democrats in the Senate, but the administration is likely more concerned with 27 of them. Based on statements made immediately following the deal’s release, Washington insider site The Hill last week counted only five senators – Democrats Dick Durbin, Dianne Feinstein, Martin Heinrich, Jack Reed and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders – who are currently definite “yes” votes for the administration.

Another 13 Democrats are seen as leaning toward supporting the administration’s position – but the intentions of the remaining 27 Democrats and one Independent remain unclear. Some, like Senator Robert Menendez, may lean toward rejecting the agreement, but almost all of the yet-undecideds have emphasized that they are still waiting to learn more about the deal. Reports over the weekend said that up to 15 Democratic senators have expressed skepticism over the terms of the deal.

Under the existing law, Congress may vote on a resolution of approval or disapproval regarding the deal, which is seen as a cornerstone of the president’s foreign policy legacy. Whether a vote of disapproval or approval is taken, the president is likely to lose it by a simple majority. But if the resolution is one of disapproval, Obama will be able to veto it. The real challenge for the administration arises after that, when Senate Republicans will try to enlist 13 Democrats to vote against the agreement in order to override the presidential veto.

Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer will talk to conservative Republicans on Wednesday, presumably in order to sway them to oppose the agreement. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has strongly condemned the nuclear deal, calling it a “dream” agreement for Iran.

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