Vice President Joe Biden met with House Democrats in an effort to gain support for the Iran nuclear deal and told reporters afterward, “I think we’re going to be OK.”
Several Democrats said they remain uncommitted after the private meeting Wednesday with Biden. “I answered questions,” the vice president told reporters as he left the meeting alongside House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.
The Iran accord that took seven nations almost two years to negotiate now depends on President Barack Obama’s ability to defend it against efforts to kill it from Capitol Hill to Jerusalem.
Representative Bill Pascrell of New Jersey said after the meeting with Biden that he was leaning toward backing the agreement, though he and other lawmakers wouldn’t predict whether Democrats will unify behind the deal.
Entering a two-month fight over the deal with Congress, Obama has the numbers on his side: Republicans will have trouble coming up with enough votes to override the president’s promised veto if Congress passes a resolution rejecting the accord.
Urging lawmakers to “consider the alternative,” Obama said Tuesday that “no deal means no lasting constraints on Iran’s nuclear program. No deal means a greater chance of war in the Middle East.”
That plea ran into a wall of criticism in Congress, starting with Republican leaders. House Speaker John Boehner said if party members decide the deal is as bad it initially appears, “we’ll do everything we can to stop it.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said his chamber “must now weigh why a nuclear agreement should result in reduced pressure on the world’s leading state sponsor of terror.”
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement condemning the accord as a “historic mistake” full of “sweeping concessions,” as his advisers said he will focus on lobbying U.S. lawmakers to reject the deal. He and Obama spoke by phone about the accord.
Congress would need a two-thirds vote to override a veto, requiring at least 13 Senate Democrats and 44 in the House to vote against their party’s leader, assuming all members voted and all Republicans backed an override.
During Biden’s meeting Wednesday with House Democrats, lawmakers said he assured them he was speaking from his heart in offering the deal as the best alternative.
“And we’re going to help Israel defend itself,” Pascrell said. On that topic, Pascrell said, Biden promised that “tangible things will occur and that is all I can say about that.”
The bottom line of Biden’s talk, Democratic lawmakers said, was that without a continued international sanctions regime, there are three choices facing Congress: this deal, war with Iran, or letting Iran build nuclear weapons. Several, like Pascrell, said they are leaning toward the belief that this deal is the most attractive in the short term, although they worry about what happens in the future.
While some key Democrats cited concerns about the deal, they stopped short of opposing it. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York said he’ll “go through this agreement with a fine-tooth comb” and that supporting or opposing it “is not a decision to be made lightly.”
The deal quickly became a topic in the 2016 presidential race. Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton called it an “important step” in putting the lid on Iran’s nuclear program, as Republicans contenders pledged to block it.
Diplomats from the U.S., China, Russia, the U.K., France and Germany reached the deal with their Iranian counterparts in Vienna on Tuesday, their 18th day in a final round of talks.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called it a “win-win” solution.
Full implementation depends on Iran meeting obligations to curb its nuclear program and address concerns about possible military dimensions of its work.
Iran has until Dec. 15 to answer 12-year-old questions about its weapons capabilities. Once inspectors verify compliance, Iran will be allowed to ramp up energy exports, re-enter the global financial system and gain access to as much as $150 billion in frozen assets.
‘Sign of Hope’
“This is a sign of hope for the entire world,” European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said of the agreement in Vienna. “And we all know this is very much needed in these times.”
Among Republican presidential candidates, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said in an interview that the plan will give Iran “cash to feed their war machine.” Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said Obama “has consistently negotiated from a position of weakness, giving concession after concession to a regime that has American blood on its hands.”
One of the most skeptical Democratic lawmakers was Senator Bob Menendez, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and echoed Republican concerns that the deal doesn’t eliminate Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
“Bottom line is we haven’t dismantled Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, we’ve largely preserved it,” he said. “We may have delayed it and mothballed elements of it, but they can restructure it when they choose to, especially at the end of 12 years.”
The top Democrat on the Foreign Relations panel, Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, urged senators to hold off on deciding.
“Whether we ultimately support it or don’t support, I think we have a responsibility to understand it,” he told reporters.
The vehicle for debate is legislation giving Congress 60 days to review the agreement before Obama can waive economic sanctions. Congress then could approve a resolution rejecting the Iran accord, setting up the veto fight.
The full text of the accord and other documentation required to begin the 60-day review “is going to take a couple of days” to get to Congress, White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters.
Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a chief architect of the review legislation, said he expected a vote on the deal in September, after the August congressional recess.
John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said, “It’s going to be a bumpy 80 days or so.”