Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who has frequently clashed with President Barack Obama over foreign policy, said Tuesday he’ll oppose the nuclear agreement with Iran.
Menendez said he’ll “vote to disapprove the agreement and, if called upon, would vote to override a veto,” in a speech to applause at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey.
“If Iran is to acquire a nuclear bomb, it will not have my name on it,” he said.
Menendez is only the second Democrat in the U.S. Senate to oppose the accord between Iran and world powers. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the third-ranking Democrat in the chamber, said this month he would reject the deal.
Two other Senate Democrats, Rhode Island Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, said Tuesday in a joint statement that they would support the deal.
Menendez was the top Democrat on the Senate’s Foreign Relations panel until he stepped down after being indicted April 1 on charges of taking almost $1 million in campaign donations, luxury travel and other gifts from a Florida eye doctor.
Menendez has pleaded not guilty and said the indictment twists his longtime friendship with a donor into unfounded charges
The New Jersey senator has been the most vocal Democratic critic of Obama’s foreign policies on Ukraine, Cuba and Iran. He criticized elements of the Iran nuclear deal even before its final form was announced in July, and he said Tuesday it amounts to no more than an “alarm bell” if Iran violates the agreement and “a system of inspections to verify compliance.”
“We have now abandoned our long-held policy of preventing nuclear proliferation and are now embarked not on preventing nuclear proliferation but on managing or containing it -- which leaves us with a far less desirable, less secure and less certain world order,” he said during the speech Tuesday.
Menendez, who still is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, echoed Republican concerns that the deal doesn’t eliminate Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
“The agreement that has been reached failed to achieve the one thing it set out to achieve: it failed to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state at a time of its choosing,” he said at Seton Hall.
Menendez cosponsored legislation earlier this year that would impose more sanctions on Iran, a bill Obama vowed to veto if it were enacted while talks to curb the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program continued.
The son of Cuban immigrants, Menendez also criticized Obama’s move to normalize relations with that country’s Castro regime.
While 21 Senate Democrats and two independents who caucus with them have said as of Tuesday that they support the Iran deal, more than 20 haven’t announced how they’ll vote on the agreement.
Whitehouse and Reed, the Rhode Island senators, said they made their decision after discussions with constituents, as well as public hearings, classified briefings and consultations with nuclear experts.
The agreement “establishes strong enforcement and vigilant verification mechanisms that -- in combination with our intelligence capabilities, and those of our allies -- increase our ability to detect covert activity,” Reed, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in the statement.
Whitehouse said “with persistent watchfulness and effort” the deal “could open a new doorway in the precarious Middle East.”
“I do not see a better credible option,” he said.
The 435-member House already has more than the 218 votes needed to pass a resolution of disapproval of the accord in that chamber. At least 230 Republicans, as well as 10 of 188 Democrats, are opposed to the deal.
At least 46 House Democrats support the agreement, while the rest have yet to announce their position.
No Republicans in either chamber have come out in support of the accord.
Even if both chambers of Congress vote to disapprove of the accord, as they are expected to do, Obama has said he would veto that legislation. Two-thirds of the House and the Senate would have to vote to override an Obama veto.
Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, said Monday at an event in his home state of Kentucky that the review process gives Obama the upper hand in sustaining a veto of a resolution to disapprove of the deal, according to the Associated Press.
Don Stewart, a McConnell spokesman, declined to confirm the comments at the event.
“I wasn’t there,” Stewart said in an e-mail. “I can confirm that the Constitution does stack the veto override in favor of the President.”