Of course, this drops right before the first Fox News GOP Debate began Thursday night: Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the senator who will most likely lead the Democrats in the Senate after makes his exit, will vote against the Iran deal.
In a lengthy statement from the senator’s office posted on Medium, Sen. Schumer credits President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and the rest of the principals involved in securing this deal, adding “Iran would not have come to the table without the President’s persistent efforts to convince the Europeans, the Russians, and the Chinese to join in the sanctions.”
At the same time, Sen. Schumer gives a thorough analysis of his own on this agreement, and why he has to vote against it. Simply put, there are too many holes in the deal that hinder holding Iran accountable. It’s dubious that Iran would moderate its position with the international community; the senator noted how there is a segment of the population yearning for change, but the hardline elements–which have nothing in common with the Republican Caucus–have been able to maintain their grip on power. This supposed hope and change swell has been around for 35 years. Sen. Schumer wrote he’s not confident that this will change any time soon. And because of that, Iran could become a threshold nuclear state with the international community’s blessing after the first ten years of this deal in which the county is supposed to not be pursuing nuclear weapons capability.
“To me, the very real risk that Iran will not moderate and will, instead, use the agreement to pursue its nefarious goals is too great,” he said in the statement.
He also noted that the international community might be a problem concerning accountability on inspections and re-imposition of sanctions if Iran violates this agreement. The U.S. cannot demand unilateral inspections; it needs to be approved by the majority of the “eight-member Joint Commission.” The same goes for re-imposing the sanctions, which Sen. Schumer noted could be difficult if Europe decides to strike economic agreements with Iran:
In the first ten years of the deal, there are serious weaknesses in the agreement. First, inspections are not “anywhere, anytime”; the 24-day delay before we can inspect is troubling. While inspectors would likely be able to detect radioactive isotopes at a site after 24 days, that delay would enable Iran to escape detection of any illicit building and improving of possible military dimensions (PMD) — the tools that go into building a bomb but don’t emit radioactivity.
Furthermore, even when we detect radioactivity at a site where Iran is illicitly advancing its bomb-making capability, the 24-day delay would hinder our ability to determine precisely what was being done at that site.
Even more troubling is the fact that the U.S. cannot demand inspections unilaterally. By requiring the majority of the 8-member Joint Commission, and assuming that China, Russia, and Iran will not cooperate, inspections would require the votes of all three European members of the P5+1 as well as the EU representative. It is reasonable to fear that, once the Europeans become entangled in lucrative economic relations with Iran, they may well be inclined not to rock the boat by voting to allow inspections.
Additionally, the “snapback” provisions in the agreement seem cumbersome and difficult to use. While the U.S. could unilaterally cause snapback of all sanctions, there will be instances where it would be more appropriate to snapback some but not all of the sanctions, because the violation is significant but not severe. A partial snapback of multilateral sanctions could be difficult to obtain, because the U.S. would require the cooperation of other nations. If the U.S. insists on snapback of all the provisions, which it can do unilaterally, and the Europeans, Russians, or Chinese feel that is too severe a punishment, they may not comply.
If Iran’s true intent is to get a nuclear weapon, under this agreement, it must simply exercise patience. After ten years, it can be very close to achieving that goal, and, unlike its current unsanctioned pursuit of a nuclear weapon, Iran’s nuclear program will be codified in an agreement signed by the United States and other nations. To me, after ten years, if Iran is the same nation as it is today, we will be worse off with this agreement than without it.
Finally, the hardliners can use the freed-up funds to build an ICBM on their own as soon as sanctions are lifted (and then augment their ICBM capabilities in 8 years after the ban on importing ballistic weaponry is lifted), threatening the United States. Restrictions should have been put in place limiting how Iran could use its new resources.
Now, the vote counting continues, as the Republican House intends to vote on rejecting the deal. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Senate Majority Leader, says he would consider the House's legislation as well. Democrats had hoped they could have enough Democrats to filibuster this resolution, but Sen. Schumer’s “no” vote makes that more of a challenge, according to the New York Times:
So far, 12 Senate Democrats and one Democratic-leaning independent, Senator Angus King of Maine, have announced their support for the deal. Two others, Senator Bernie Sanders, a liberal independent from Vermont, and Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, have all but announced their support.
But Mr. Obama needs 34 votes to sustain a promised veto of legislation disapproving the deal, which Republican leaders in the House and the Senate have promised to pass in September.
A veto override would be an enormous blow to the president’s prestige. It would torpedo an agreement between Iran and six powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — but it would not necessarily lead to the reimposition of crippling economic sanctions on Iran, supporters of the deal warn. With the other world powers supporting the agreement, the international sanctions regime would be likely to crumble, leaving the United States with far less effective tools to cripple Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
With so much on the line, Senate Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee like Mr. Kaine had hoped to not only rally the 34 senators needed to sustain a presidential veto, but also to possibly keep enough Democrats behind the president to filibuster a resolution of disapproval next month. To do that, they most likely could lose only five Democrats. Mr. Schumer’s break with Mr. Obama will make that far more difficult.
Nevertheless, it seems President Obama’s speech at American University earlier this week, where he tried to drum up support for the agreement, did little to stop the bleeding on his side of the aisle.