President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made separate appeals to American Jewish leaders with dueling visions of the international accord to rein in Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
The president met with prominent Jewish Americans at the White House on Tuesday afternoon, just hours after Netanyahu labeled the deal “dangerous” in a webcast targeted at the same community. Obama will again make his case for the Iran deal on Wednesday in a speech at American University in Washington.
The accord negotiated by the U.S. and five other world powers with Iran has put new strains on an already contentious relationship between Obama and Netanyahu. It also has set off attempts by both sides to influence public opinion in the U.S. and Israel.
Obama will argue the agreement is “in the best national interests of both the United States and Israel,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said before the president met with the group of Jewish leaders. “That’s a pretty blunt, direct case that the president will make.”
Netanyahu was blunt as well in his remarks, broadcast from his office in Jerusalem.
“This is the time to oppose this dangerous deal,” he said. “The days when the Jewish people could not speak out for themselves are over.”
The White House said that a “diverse” panel, including public opponents of the deal, had been invited to meet the president on Tuesday. The outreach is aimed at countering efforts by opponents -- including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee -- who have committed to heavily lobby lawmakers during the congressional review period.
Participants at the meeting included Alan Solow, the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and a campaign bundler for Obama, as well as representatives from the Aipac, the Anti-Defamation League, the Orthodox Union, the World Jewish Congress, J Street and the National Jewish Democratic Council.
The Obama administration also has tried to make its case for the Iran accord to Netanyahu’s domestic constituency, with U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz telling visiting Israeli journalists in Washington on Monday, “If I was Israeli, I would support the Iran deal.”
Obama is seeking to scrape together enough votes in the House and Senate to prevent Congress from scuttling the agreement. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said Tuesday he expects the chamber to vote on a resolution disapproving of the pact when Congress returns from a recess in September.
A similar House resolution has 217 co-sponsors.
“It is clear that this is a bad deal, and the House will vote on disapproval in September,” said Kevin McCarthy of California, the No. 2 House Republican.
Obama has vowed to veto a disapproval and is counting on Democrats to deny opponents, most of them Republicans, the two-thirds majority of both chambers needed to overturn a veto. At least 44 House Democrats and 13 Senate Democrats would have to side with Republicans against Obama.
The White House got a boost Tuesday when Democratic Senators Barbara Boxer of California, Bill Nelson of Florida and Tim Kaine of Virginia all said they would back the agreement. Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid of Nevada declined to answer whether lawmakers from his party can muster enough votes to uphold a veto.
Despite the high-profile endorsements in the Senate, a trio of influential House Democrats said Tuesday they would oppose the Iran deal. Representative Steve Israel, a Jewish Democrat from Long Island who holds a top position in Pelosi’s leadership team, will oppose the deal, according to his spokeswoman, Caitlin Girouard.
Two other prominent Jewish Democrats -- Representative Nita Lowey of New York and Representative Ted Deutch of Florida -- signaled their opposition as well.
“In my judgment, sufficient safeguards are not in place to address the risks associated with the agreement,” Lowey said in a statement.
Two other New York Democrats, Representatives Kathleen Rice and Grace Meng, also have said they won’t support the agreement.
The Democratic leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi has said she’s confident that a veto of a disapproval resolution will be sustained.
One of the Democrats being closely watched is New York Senator Charles Schumer, who declined to say Tuesday if he was any closer to a decision on whether to support Iran agreement.
“I’ve had several more briefings and discussions and I’m getting a lot of questions answered,” he told reporters, adding that he won’t let “party, pressure or politics” influence his decision.
Earnest said senior administration officials had been in contact with Schumer since before the deal was finalized, and that the New York lawmaker had “actively sought” more information about the agreement.
Republicans in Congress have zeroed in on confidential agreements between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency, which will inspect Iran’s nuclear facilities, as the key point of attack.
Administration officials said such agreements are standard procedure for international inspections, while critics have portrayed them as secret side deals. Secretary of State John Kerry has told lawmakers that while the documents are confidential, all members of Congress will be briefed on them in closed-door sessions.
“What we want to see are the side agreements,” McConnell said. “The fact that they are unwilling to provide the agreements is a serious problem.”
Earnest said lawmakers have gotten “all of the available information” from the administration, including briefings on the IAEA agreements.
Senators will get classified briefings later this week, before they leave Washington for their August recess, Earnest said. He also hasn’t ruled out Obama inviting select senators to the White House to get a personal presidential appeal.
On Monday, 22 House Democrats -- most of them freshmen -- left for Israel on a trip that will include a meeting with Netanyahu. Next week, 36 Republicans plan to meet with Netanyahu during a similar trip paid for by the same nonprofit offshoot of AIPAC.