Vice President Joe Biden met with American Jewish leaders in Florida on Thursday, acknowledging their concerns about the White House’s nuclear deal with Iran but arguing the accord is the best option for the U.S., Israel and the rest of the world.
Biden at the David Posnack Jewish Community Center in Davie, Fla. said at first he was “sort of the skeptic in the administration” about the plan but came to the realization that it was a “good deal” that “will make the U.S. and Israel safer, not weaker.”
The trip to the crucial swing state of Florida comes as the vice president mulls making a run for the Oval Office. Biden made no mention of 2016 at the event, but joked about the speculation Wednesday at Miami Dade College during a speech about education. “Look at all the press you’ve attracted,” he told students and faculty sitting in the audience. “Their interest in community college has impressed me. I hope that’s what they are going to write about.”
When Biden pushed the Iran deal on Thursday, he notably sat next to and was introduced by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, who is still undecided about the agreement ahead of a Congressional vote on the deal in September.
Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, acknowledged she was still working on making her own decision about the deal.
“I am not afraid to make this decision. I am never afraid to stand alone when necessary to stand on principle,” she said, adding a decision will be made with her head along with her “Jewish heart.”
Most Republicans and a handful of Democrats are against the deal with some on the left—several of whom are Jewish, like Wasserman Schultz—still undecided. Obama secured a major victory on Wednesday, however, when Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland announced her support for the deal, ensuring there are enough votes to uphold an Obama veto if Congress votes to disapprove of the agreement.
Under the accord, which the U.S. and other world powers hammered out with Iran, the Islamic Republic would curb its nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in relief from economic sanctions. Critics argue the agreement doesn’t do enough to force Iran to halt its nuclear program, that sanctions relief would allow the regime to increase its funding of anti-Israel terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah, and they question whether the International Atomic Energy Agency inspections would be effective.
The vice president argued Congress’ attempt to block the deal hurts U.S. foreign policy and credibility. “I’ve been doing foreign policy for 42 years. I cannot think of a single time since I’ve been involved where our ability to conduct foreign policy has been so strained because of the dysfunction in Washington and in Congress,” he said.
Biden gave a detailed defense of the agreement, arguing “It’s better dealing with those bad guys than if we’re dealing with the bad guys and the nuclear bombs on the table.” He also said the idea that no one in Israel is in favor of the agreement “is simply not correct,” and the plan will allow for inspections for many more years to come. When the issue of self-inspections was brought up, Biden said “There’s no self inspection,” adding he’ll “go into more detail when the press is not here.” A Q&A after Biden’s initial remarks were not open to the media.
Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Jewish community center where Biden was speaking to rail against the Iran deal.