President Obama on Wednesday was handed a major foreign policy victory after securing enough votes in the Senate to preserve the nuclear deal with Iran, which has come under intense criticism from Republicans and some Democrats.
The agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions struck by international negotiators in Vienna earlier this summer was the subject of an intense lobbying campaign in recent weeks by both the administration and the deal’s opponents in advance of an expected vote this month on a resolution to block the deal’s implementation.
But Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) on Wednesday morning said she will back the agreement, making her the 34th senator to pledge support for the Iran deal in the Senate. This means that opponents will not be able to collect the two-thirds supermajority vote needed to override Obama’s promised veto of any legislative attempt to dismantle the nuclear pact.
“No deal is perfect, especially one negotiated with the Iranian regime. I have concluded that this Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is the best option available to block Iran from having a nuclear bomb,” Mikulski said in a statement explaining why she is backing the deal. “For these reasons, I will vote in favor of this deal.”
Her support ends weeks of intense lobbying on both sides and serves as a defeat for deal detractors, despite the fact that majorities in both the Republican-led House and Senate will likely vote to oppose the Iran agreement later this month.
Congress secured an unorthodox role for itself in the negotiations earlier this year by passing legislation demanding a chance for lawmakers to review the deal that the United States, Russia, China, Great Britain, France, and Germany were negotiating with Iran to rein in Tehran’s nuclear development program. The deal they struck trades promises from Iran to destroy centrifuges and dismantle weaponization programs in exchange for a stage-by-stage lifting of sanctions that have hamstrung the Iranian economy.
Since the deal was struck in July, critics have complained that it doesn’t do enough to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and, at best, only delays Iran’s pathway to becoming an armed nuclear state. Even those on the fence have openly worried that Iran might funnel some of the money that gets pumped back into the economy after sanctions are lifted into nefarious activities, including funding groups that pose a direct threat to Israel.
But Obama and his proxies have argued that the deal is the best agreement they could have secured, that there is no alternative to the agreement but war with Iran and that those angling to rip-up the current deal and call Iran back to the negotiating table do not have a viable alternative.
So far, Obama’s argument has only swayed Democrats – no Republicans have come out to support the deal. And politically, the splits forming around the agreement in Congress appear to be reflected throughout the country. While polls show that a majority of Americans oppose the deal, a strong majority of Democrats support it and a strong majority of Republicans oppose the deal.
The Iran deal has become a 2016 campaign issue as well, with candidates going after each other and casting it as an indication of how strongly they support Israel.
In that environment, the prospect of becoming Senator No. 34 – the deal-clinching senator – was daunting for some, with campaign ads all but guaranteed to be rolled out against the senator who took that key spot. Mikulski, however, is retiring at the end of her term next year and does not need to worry about political blowback.
Her vote now potentially clears the way for other undecided senators to support the deal. There are 10 Democrats who remain undeclared – if seven more of those senators vote for the deal, Obama might not need to pick up his veto pen at all. If 41 senators support the agreement, deal backers could successfully filibuster the resolution of disapproval and the pact will stand.