WASHINGTON — The fiercely contested Iran nuclear deal will likely survive in Congress despite unified GOP opposition and some Democratic defections, the top Senate Republican says. That would mean a major foreign policy win for President Barack Obama.
Obama has "a great likelihood of success," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in his home state of Kentucky this week — giving public voice to what other Republicans have acknowledged in private. "I hope we can defeat it, but the procedure is obviously stacked in the president's favor."
Indeed, even as Congress' August recess has hardened Republicans' opposition to the deal on Capitol Hill and on the presidential campaign trail, reality is setting in: They probably can't stop it. Significant Democratic defections from Obama would be required in both chambers of Congress, and even with opponents mounting a strenuous lobbying campaign in key congressional districts, such a prospect looks remote.
That means that even with Obama firmly in lame-duck territory and his GOP opponents in control of Congress and aiming for the White House, the president is on the verge of a legacy-defining victory on a pact that he and his supporters say will keep the world safe from Iran's nuclear ambitions. Opponents continue to warn furiously that the result could be just the opposite: to strengthen Tehran's hand, in an existential threat to Israel and the world.
On Tuesday, a second Democratic senator, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, did announce his opposition to the deal, joining Chuck Schumer of New York.
"The agreement that has been reached failed to achieve the one thing it set out to achieve — it failed to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state at a time of its choosing," Menendez said in a blistering speech at the Seton Hall School of Diplomacy and International Relations in South Orange, N.J. "In fact, it authorizes and supports the very road map Iran will need to arrive at its target."
Menendez argued the deal should be sent back and negotiations should continue. But his opposition was expected, and, underscoring slim prospects for his side, he stopped short of predicting opponents would prevail.
The agreement would require Iran to dismantle most of its nuclear program for at least a decade in exchange for billions of dollars in relief from international sanctions. But the Israeli government and critics in the United States argue that it would not stop Iran from building a bomb.
Bipartisan legislation does give Congress the right to review the deal, and there will be a vote by Sept. 17. That's likely to go in favor of disapproval, but Obama would then veto the legislation and opponents would need to muster two-thirds majorities in both chambers to override him.
Obama needs support from 34 of the 46 members of the Democratic caucus to sustain a veto, and 23 have already announced they are backing him.