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Schumer endorses GOP plan on Iran agreement

Obama doesn't need to win Republicans over. He just needs to keep Democrats on his side. That's much easier said than done.
Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks during an event, Jan. 23, 2014 in Washington, DC.
Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks during an event, Jan. 23, 2014 in Washington, DC.
When it comes to the international agreement to curtail Iran's nuclear program, the White House's information campaign has been pretty aggressive. President Obama and just about every member of his foreign policy team are fanning out, communicating with lawmakers, journalists, and the public at large, trying to build a base of support for this once-in-a-generation opportunity.
I've seen some suggestions that the president's team is facing an uphill climb trying to win over congressional Republicans. Let's make this plain: that fight is already over. Indeed, it was never going to start -- GOP lawmakers condemned the international agreement before it existed and they aren't open to White House arguments now. Their goal is to increase the threats and prepare for a possible military confrontation with Iran -- which is the roughly the opposite of this framework, which moves us further from a war, not closer to one.
But Obama doesn't need to win Republicans over. He just needs to keep Democrats on his side. As Burgess Everett reported last night, that's easier said than done.

Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, one of Capitol Hill's most influential voices in the Iran nuclear debate, is strongly endorsing passage of a law opposed by President Barack Obama that would give Congress an avenue to reject the White House-brokered framework unveiled last week. The comments Monday by the Democratic leader-in-waiting illustrate the enormity of the task ahead for Obama and his team: While there's no guarantee that Congress would ultimately reject an agreement with Iran, there's an increasingly bipartisan consensus that Congress should at least have the ability to do so.

There's no getting around the fact that empowering Congress to have veto power over an international agreement is likely to have the practical effect of a sabotage strategy. These kinds of agreements have never been subjected to lawmakers' approval before -- in fact, the status-quo deal that's currently in place wasn't put to a vote in Congress, either -- and there's no legal or procedural reason to give lawmakers that authority now.
But GOP lawmakers are demanding a congressional sign-off authority anyway. These are the same Republicans who sent a letter to Iranian officials, telling them not to trust U.S. officials, for the express purpose of derailing a diplomatic solution.
Chuck Schumer, the next Senate Democratic Leader, has endorsed the Republican legislation anyway, endorsing a GOP plan that gives Congress the power to kill the popular, effective agreement.
Following up on yesterday's coverage, this does not necessarily change the numeric calculus -- the bill championed by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) needs new co-sponsors, and Schumer was already on board with his plan.
But the comments from the New York Democrat yesterday were nevertheless important, in large part because Schumer signed on to the Corker bill before the framework was announced last week. The hope was that the Democratic leader would see the plan, value it on the merits, and back off from support the Republican gambit. That obviously hasn't happened.
Matt Yglesias had a good piece on the broader legislative dynamic.

Of course, just because Bob Corker may be able to pass a bill doesn't mean the bill will become law. The real question is whether hawks in Congress can muster enough votes to override an Obama veto. To accomplish that, Republicans need a two-thirds supermajority in both houses of Congress. Thanks to the filibuster, we've grown accustomed to the Senate as being the place where majority-supported legislation goes to die. But given Schumer's support for the Corker bill, the harder road for the GOP may be through the House of Representatives. It will take 290 House votes to overcome a veto in the House. Assuming the GOP can count on all 245 Republicans, that still leaves them in need of 45 Democrats -- and due to a mix of gerrymandering and Democrats' poor performance in the 2014 midterms, there are very few Democratic incumbents holding Republican-leading seats.

Watch this space.