For the White House and proponents of a diplomatic solution with Iran, this has been a week of heartening progress. Democratic lawmakers, critical to the process, have expressed support for the international nuclear agreement in large numbers, including an endorsement from Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) this morning.
But the party’s support is not unanimous. This week, a leading New York Democrat, Rep. Steve Israel, announced his opposition to the deal, and last night, another leading New York Democrat, Sen. Chuck Schumer, followed suit.
At face value, this may seem like a critical blow, especially given the fact that Schumer is slated to become the new Senate Democratic Leader in the next Congress. But just below the surface, a different kind of picture emerges. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent has a take on this that rings true:
Here’s the real story: Schumer’s opposition is not likely to matter that much to the outcome either way. Does that mean the deal will certainly go forward? No. Rather, the point is, if enough Senate Democrats are inclined to support the deal to prevent an override of President Obama’s veto of a motion disapproving the deal – which isn’t assured, but still seems likely – then Schumer’s opposition is unlikely to change that.
It’s a detail Schumer understands quite well. Indeed, I heard from some Democratic sources overnight who support President Obama’s policy and saw Schumer’s announcement as good news.
Why? For one thing, Schumer may oppose the deal – for reasons that are arguably more political than substantive – but he’s not making much of an effort to kill it. The senator made his announcement last night, at a time when the political world’s attention was obviously focused elsewhere, and his statement specifically said, “[I]n my experience with matters of conscience and great consequence like this, each member ultimately comes to their own conclusion.”
In other words, don’t expect to see him actively lobbying Democrats to align themselves with Republicans against the White House’s policy.
For another, by some measures, Schumer wouldn’t have made the announcement at this point unless he was fairly confident the votes in support of the president’s position were already sufficient. Does a Senate Democratic leader really want to be responsible for delivering a big win to right-wing Republicans, crushing the nation’s international standing, and pushing the United States closer to another war in the Middle East?
Probably not. Schumer, in other words, likely announced his opposition because he knows he can do so without consequence. Or as The Atlantic’s Jim Fallows put it the other day, “How can a powerful Democrat’s opposition be a good sign? Because it suggests that Schumer has already calculated that the administration can do without his vote.”
This remains a matter of simple arithmetic. Congressional Republicans, no matter how intense their zeal, cannot kill the policy on their own. GOP lawmakers will need no less than 44 House Democrats and 13 Senate Democrats to partner with far-right members to crush the international agreement.
At least for now, the deal’s opponents aren’t even close to their goal. Indeed, in the Senate, the grand total of “no” votes among Senate Dems appears to be two: Schumer and New Jersey’s Bob Menendez. (Menendez hasn’t officially announced his position, but it’s a foregone conclusion.)
Are there 11 other Senate Democrats ready to partner with Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton? At this point, no. It’s why Schumer’s announcement can and should be taken with a grain of salt.