In a blistering attack on President Obama, New Jersey governor and Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie on Tuesday called on his state’s congressional delegation to oppose the Iran nuclear deal.
“The president got himself in too deep here, too obsessed with his legacy,” said Christie, flanked by Jewish leaders, at Rutgers University’s Chabad House. “And the American people need to save him from himself.”
Several times, the governor name-checked Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat who has not yet indicated how he feels about the deal. Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez – the other senator from the Garden State – has recently come out against the accord.
Silvia Alvarez, a spokeswoman for Booker, told msnbc that the senator is still reviewing the deal, consulting with independent experts, talking to New Jerseyans and participating in related briefings.
“Senator Booker will make his decision on the Iran deal based upon what he believes is best for America’s national security regardless of political pressure, lobbying or theatrics,” said Alvarez. “The senator’s decision will be derived from thorough and thoughtful analysis of all the facts, evidence and information as well as from consultation with a wide and diverse array of experts.”
Christie’s press conference came as the Republican White House hopeful has been struggling in national polls and as Obama has tried to drum up congressional support ahead of a vote on the deal in September. Under the deal, which the U.S. and other world powers hammered out with Iran, the Islamic Republican would curb its nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in relief from economic sanctions.
Most Republicans and a handful of Democrats are against the accord. They argue that the deal 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 will be effective.
Christie – who took particular issue with a waiting period for nuclear inspectors—said New Jersey’s congressional delegation should put party aside as lawmakers did in the days following Hurricane Sandy, which devastated parts of the state’s coastline. “This is bigger than any one particular friendship or kinship,” said the governor. “Yes, I feel an extraordinary kinship with the Jewish people and the state of Israel. But what we are talking about with this agreement goes well beyond the surviving and the striving of the state of Israel. It goes to 70 years of nuclear deterrence in this world led by the United States, which is now being disposed of.”
Later, Christie added, “We have the president of the United States directly lying to the American people in order to try to force this through a reluctant and concerned Congress.”
Influential Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who introduced Christie, went further, saying “This deal will lead to war.”
The big question is if there will be enough votes to override a presidential veto. There would have to be at least 13 Democrats in the Senate and 44 Democrats in the House willing to side with Republicans, assuming all of them vote against the deal.
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As things stand, Congress is unlikely to override the veto, according to a Washington Post analysis. Only 12 House Democrats have said they are against it, while two Democratic senators – Sen. Charles Schumer of New York and Menendez – have said they will oppose the deal.
Obama continued his push for the deal last with an op-ed in New Jersey’s Star-Ledger.
“The idea that we can get a better deal by talking tough or squeezing Iran into submission with more sanctions is simply not realistic,” Obama wrote, pushing back at an argument made by critics including Schumer and Menendez. “The international unity we spent years building—the unity that brought Iran to the negotiating table—would be destroyed if this deal is rejected.”
Obama’s controversial deal with Iran received an important boost on Friday from Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, who announced he would support the agreement. The endorsement makes Nadler the only Jewish New Yorker in Congress to approve of the deal, which is being seen as a win for Obama even as other Democratic lawmakers in the Empire State – including Schumer and Reps. Eliot L. Engel and Steve Israel – have refused to back the accord.