Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

PolitiFact.com | Tampa Bay Times
Sorting out the truth in politics

PolitiFact: Did Obama team announce Iran deal to overshadow Obamacare?

Experts on international issues say it would be highly improbable President Obama could have orchestrated the timing of a nuclear deal with Iran to overshadow Obamacare.

White House

Experts on international issues say it would be highly improbable President Obama could have orchestrated the timing of a nuclear deal with Iran to overshadow Obamacare.

Within hours of the United States announcing an initial nuclear deal with Iran on Saturday, a few critics of President Barack Obama began to muse publicly about whether the announcement was timed to distract the American public from the troubled launch of Obamacare.

"Amazing what WH will do to distract attention from O-care," tweeted Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, at 10:15 p.m. the same night as the deal was announced.

Former presidential candidate Herman Cain cited the Iran deal as an example of how Obama "is desperately trying to change the subject from Obamacare to just about anything else."

And on Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy asked, "Don't you think it's a little curious? Some of my friends were talking over the weekend, isn't that curious timing? Out of nowhere, you know, in the midst of Obamacare not unrolling correctly, the president's poll numbers never been lower. Then, look, (Secretary of State) John Kerry pulls a rabbit out of his hat and changes the subject."

To this, Fox anchor Bret Baier replied, "You're right, it is questionable timing, as far as how much this is sucking up the oxygen in the room, and Obamacare was taking a lot of front page space." He then backtracked a bit, adding, "They had been working on the deal for a while, and it did come together at this time."

Is there any evidence that the White House delayed a deal with Iran in order to distract the American people from the Obamacare rollout? We aren't able to put this claim to the Truth-O-Meter because of the lack of transparency surrounding closed-door, high-level negotiations.

Still, we thought it might be useful to look at the evidence that is available, and to check with people who have some experience with such diplomacy.

According to an Associated Press timeline of the Iran talks, the current round of negotiations with Iran have been under way since February — long before the Obamacare website problems and the administration's public relations nightmare began. That month, a U.S. delegation, led by Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, joined allies in talks with Iran in Almaty, Kazakhstan. In March, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Vice President Joe Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, flew secretly to Oman to meet with Iranian officials.

In August — still well before the most problematic revelations about Obamacare began to emerge in October — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Obama exchanged letters, and Burns and Sullivan held two more secret meetings with Iranian officials. In September, Obama and Rouhani spoke by phone — the first time a U.S. president and an Iranian leader had since 1979. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif also met members of the allied negotiating team, including Kerry and Sherman, at the United Nations.

The website's problems emerged after its Oct. 1 launch and the trouble deepened when the scale of individual-market policy cancellations became clearer, undermining Obama's long-stated pledge that if you like your health care plan, you can keep it.

So it's true that the climax of the negotiations with Iran coincided with the difficult Obamacare rollout. But the timeline suggests a cloak-and-dagger effort to find common ground with a decades-old enemy — not an easy effort to avoid bad PR at home.

Experts were highly skeptical the administration could have pulled it off even if it had wanted to.

"I don't know if there are any historical examples in the universe of diplomacy" of such a well-timed diplomatic coup, at least one done intentionally, said Michael Levi, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who specializes in arms control and technology in the Islamic world.

"I find it enormously implausible that the administration could have timed the Iran nuclear deal to distract from Obamacare," Levi said. "There are simply too many moving parts — and too many players — for such a thing to be engineered."

Gary Clyde Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics who has extensive experience with international agreements, felt similarly.

"It would have been hard for the U.S. to accelerate the timing of Iranian talks in order to draw attention away from Obamacare," he said. "Besides Iran, the other countries involved in the talks could care less about Obama's domestic problems."

Hufbauer added that so far at least, "it's not obvious that the Iranian deal has given Obama a new halo. Even some of his Democratic allies are disgruntled. So put me down as a skeptic."

We should note that Obama has long been interested in addressing the Iranian nuclear issue. During the 2012 campaign, he promised that "as long as I'm president of the United States, Iran will not get a nuclear weapon." Even earlier, in the 2008 campaign, he pledged to "crack down on nuclear proliferation by strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty so that countries like North Korea and Iran that break the rules will automatically face strong international sanctions."

Kingston Reif, director of nuclear non-proliferation at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, pointed to Obama's longstanding interest in the issue as well as the June election of Rouhani, a moderate, as the reasons the agreement is coming together.

Those things have nothing to do with Obamacare, he said.

"This is an unhinged conspiracy theory. It is the kind of utterance one usually finds in the National Enquirer, not from a sitting United States senator," Reif said.

Louis Jacobson can be reached at ljacobson@tampabay.com.

PolitiFact: Did Obama team announce Iran deal to overshadow Obamacare? 11/28/13 [Last modified: Thursday, November 28, 2013 10:57pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Review / photos: Sunset Music Festival brings Major Lazer, safety upgrades to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa

    Blogs

    Somewhere beyond the barricades and mountainous LED stages of the Sunset Music Festival, there had to be worry. There had to thousands of parents in parking lots and empty kitchens, anxiously distracting their minds, every now and then checking their phones.

    Major Lazer headlined the Sunset Music Festival on May 27, 2017 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
  2. 24-year-old man charged with murder in shooting at Andrea Cove Motel

    LARGO — Pinellas sheriff's officers arrested a 24-year-old transient man Saturday in connection with a homicide at the Andrea Cove Motel in unincorporated Largo.

  3. Photo gallery: Calvary Christian rolls to state title

    Blogs

    View a gallery of images from Calvary Christian's defeat of Pensacola Catholic 11-1 in six innings Saturday night at Hammond Stadium in Ft. Myers for the Class 4A title.

    Calvary Christian players circle up on the field before the FHSAA class 4A baseball championship against Pensacola Catholic on Friday May 27, 2017 at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Fla. Calvary scored 6 runs in the first inning, and had 7 hits.
  4. Two girls found safe after being reported missing in New Port Richey

    UPDATE: Both girls were found safe Saturday night, police said.

  5. IT failure blamed for British Airways cancellations (w/video)

    Airlines

    LONDON — British Airways canceled all flights from London's Heathrow and Gatwick airports on Saturday as a global IT failure upended the travel plans of tens of thousands of people on a busy U.K. holiday weekend.

    Passengers wait at a British Airways check-in desk after the airport suffered an IT systems failure Saturday at London''s Gatwick Airport. [Associated Press]