Iran Nuke Deal Up in the Air? Obama Loses Key Democratic Ally in Senate

© AP Photo / J. Scott ApplewhiteSen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. - Sputnik International
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As President Obama lobbies Congressional Republicans to accept the Iran nuclear agreement, his efforts experienced a surprise setback Thursday night. New York Senator Chuck Schumer, a top Democrat, announced he would oppose the deal.

Amid Republican opposition to the nuclear reached between Iran and the P5+1 nations, President Obama has been busy convincing lawmakers – and the American people – that the agreement is in America’s best interests.

"Let’s not mince words: the choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy and some sort of war," Obama said during a speech on Wednesday.

President Barack Obama speaks about the nuclear deal with Iran, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015, at American University in Washington - Sputnik International
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Of course, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, one of the deal’s chief opponents, has also been lobbying US lawmakers. Arguing that a nuclear Iran poses a grave national security threat to Israel, a number of pro-Israel groups in the US have taken up the call, spending millions on advertising.

In a move that appears to be an appeasement to his base, New York Senator Chuck Schumer, one of the most influential Jewish legislators in the country and a key ally of President Obama, has announced his opposition to the nuclear agreement.

"Advocates on both sides have strong cases for their point of view that cannot simply be dismissed," Schumer said, according to Reuters. "This has made evaluating the agreement a difficult and deliberate endeavor, and after deep study, careful thought and considerable soul-searching, I have decided I must oppose the agreement and will vote yes on a motion of disapproval."

During a news conference, US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed his frustration with the Senator’s decision, as well as that of US Representative Eliot Engel, another Democrat who has come out against the nuclear agreement.

"It does not offer any alternative and many people in arms control and others have actually pointed that out," Kerry said. "While I completely respect everybody’s individual right to make a choice, I obviously disagree with the choice made."

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem June 28, 2015 - Sputnik International
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Schumer’s decision to go against the President – and the majority of his own party – is especially surprising given that Schumer is expected to be next in line as Democratic leader of the Senate.

"No real Democratic leader does this," anti-war advocacy group MoveOn wrote. "If this is what counts as ‘leadership’ among Democrats in the Senate, Senate Democrats should be prepared to find a new leader or few followers."

Still, others have pointed out that Schumer’s decision is less about conviction, and more of a calculated political decision which will likely have little effect on the outcome of the nuclear deal.

For one, even if Congress votes for motion of disapproval, President Obama has promised a veto. If opponents in the Senate hope to override that veto, they’re going to need at least 67 votes. Given that most Democrats are expected to support the plan, Schumer’s lone dissent won’t amount to much.

Only one day before Schumer’s announce, Democratic Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Kirsten Gillibrand expressed their full support for the nuclear agreement.

Schumer’s sincerity can also be called into question based on the timing and medium of his announcement. Rather than publicizing his opposition, the Senator quietly expressed his stance through a written statement posted online. Not only had the Senate already dismissed for a month-long break when Schumer posted his statement, but it also came amid the highly anticipated Republican primary debate, a spectacle with which no political news could hope to compete.

(L-R) German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, US Secretary of State John Kerry, US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini and British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Philip Hammond (C) meet at the Palais Coburg Hotel, where the Iran nuclear talks are being held, in Vienna, Austria on July 14, 2015 - Sputnik International
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"…In my experience with matters of conscience and great consequence like this, each member ultimately comes to their own conclusion," Schumer said, and that statement could also indicate that he has little intention of lobbying fellow Democrats to vote against the deal.

Whether the Senator’s decision represents a major dissent within President Obama’s party or is only a political move crafted to appease his constituency, the results will be clear once Congress votes on September 17. 

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