The Immolation of Chuck Schumer And The Inevitable Veto Watch

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Aug 11, 2015 3:30 PM
The Immolation of Chuck Schumer And The Inevitable Veto Watch

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is against the Iran deal; he plans to vote against it; and will vote to override Obama’s veto. It’s a position that hasn’t earned him admiration among the progressive left. In fact, far-left groups, like MoveOn.org and Credo Action, think Democrats should find a different leader in the Senate upon Harry Reid’s (D-NV) exit in 2017. The left is also mobilizing support to do a massive fundraising freeze–$11 million–to the Democratic Party’s respective campaigns in protest of Schumer’s position on the deal. Even members of Team Obama have piled on the New York Democrat, with former senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer tweeting that Schumer’s “siding with the GOP” could put his Senate leadership position in jeopardy. Schumer is expected to become the next leader for Senate Democrats. Nevertheless, some Senate staffers note that Schumer’s future in the upper chamber isn’t beholden to current or former members of the Obama administration.

At the same time, some commentators, like the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin, have noted the quiet anti-Semitism that’s been disseminated from the media regarding Schumer’s vote. The progressive Daily Kos had an awful cartoon that insinuated Schumer’s (non-existent) dual-loyalty. Over at Hot Air, Ed wrote about how Tablet Magazine–a Jewish publication–weren’t exactly thrilled with Schumer’s position on the deal, but were outright appalled by the “Jew-baiting” tactics emanating from left regarding this deal:

This use of anti-Jewish incitement as a political tool is a sickening new development in American political discourse, and we have heard too much of it lately—some coming, ominously, from our own White House and its representatives. Let’s not mince words: Murmuring about “money” and “lobbying” and “foreign interests” who seek to drag America into war is a direct attempt to play the dual-loyalty card. It’s the kind of dark, nasty stuff we might expect to hear at a white power rally, not from the President of the United States—and it’s gotten so blatant that even many of us who are generally sympathetic to the administration, and even this deal, have been shaken by it.

Rubin cited the New York Post’s editorial board, which echoed the same points:

The lefty site Daily Kos posted a cartoon showing Schumer with an Israeli flag and calling him a “traitor.”

MoveOn argues that “our country doesn’t need another Joe Lieberman in the Senate,” a reference to Connecticut’s ex-senator — who, like Schumer, is Jewish.

White House buddy Fareed Zakaria waved at anti-Semitic stereotypes, saying Schumer’s motive is just “money” — “If he were to support President Obama on this, if he were to support this deal, he knows it would create a firestorm of opposition, particularly among, perhaps, you know, wealthy supporters.”

At the same time, she mentions that a) it’s been interesting to see how the White House’s reaction to Schumer’s position given that Obama said he would “welcome scrutiny of the details of this agreement” b) the White House’s aggressive stance on this deal suggests that the votes aren’t there to sustain a veto:

Contrary to a number of political pundits who are certain the president will have the votes to override a veto, the White House’s recent behavior coupled with unsubtle echoes of anti-Semitic tropes tells us it does not have the votes presently to sustain a veto and that its briefings have not allayed the fears of responsible lawmakers. That should encourage opponents of the deal who pledge to redouble their efforts in the weeks leading up to the vote. Moreover, the White House risks inflaming Jewish voters, even liberals who might support the president out of loyalty and provoke them to lobby lawmakers. (Jeff Robbins writes, “Criticism of his deal, our president says, is the work of ‘money,’ ‘donors’ and ‘lobbyists’ who ‘demand’ war, and whose ‘drumbeat for war’ is motivated by their ‘affinity for . . . Israel.’ The specter of an American president using the time-honored rhetorical weapons of anti-Semites to improve poll numbers has been sickening to many, but perhaps most of all to American Jews who voted to elect and then re-elect him.”) It’s not clear these tactics are doing anything to engage Obama’s base, but they sure have fired up the opposition.

I asked an activist in support of the deal why the president is behaving this way. The answer: This is all he and his political hatchet men know. It turns out it is spectacularly unsuited to the moment. Whether that will cost him support is unknown, but he surely is making his critics’ job easier.

Yet, Greg Sargent, who admittedly writes with a liberal slant, wrote on August 6 how Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz seems to be shoring up House support by responding to the 150 House Democrats, who sent a letter in May, signaling their support for the Iran deal. He also noted that the firewall will most likely be in the House, not the Senate, and that not a single member of that 150-vote block has defected.

As for the veto, Sargent contends that opponents are going to have an incredibly hard, though not impossible, time in cobbling enough votes for a veto override. Moreover, the Schumer-effect regarding a watershed of Democratic votes casting their votes with him is also dubious and probably irrelevant:

Schumer’s opposition is not likely to matter that much to the outcome either way. Does that mean the deal will certainly go forward? No. Rather, the point is, if enough Senate Democrats are inclined to support the deal to prevent an override of President Obama’s veto of a motion disapproving the deal — which isn’t assured, but still seems likely — then Schumer’s opposition is unlikely to change that.

The widely touted notion that Schumer’s opposition paves the way for more Dems to oppose the deal sounds superficially persuasive, but should be subjected to scrutiny. Each Senator is in his or her own political situation, and many do not have the pressures on them to oppose the deal that Schumer did. What’s more, Schumer opposing the deal does not, in and of itself, necessarily make it easier for other Democrats to buck the president.

[…]

… will Schumer make a serious effort to rally other Dems to vote with him on the override?

It seems unlikely. Does the incoming Senate Democratic leader really want to take the blame for actively helping Republicans sink Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement, one that likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has already leaned into supporting? Doubtful. By voting No — while doing little to prevent the deal from going forward — Schumer can vote his conscience while not seriously undermining his position as Democratic leader.

[…]

My best guess: enough Dems will oppose the deal to get past the 60 needed to break the filibuster of the disapproval motion, but not enough will oppose it to get to the 67 needed to override Obama’s veto. And remember, whatever happens in the Senate, there’s another potential firewall in the House, which could fail to override and the deal would go forward.

Here’s the Senate math as of today. Earlier this week, proponents got a big boost when Senators Tim Kaine, Angus King, and Kirsten Gillibrand came out for the deal. Right now I count 18 Senators as genuinely possible votes against it: Heitkamp, Blumenthal, Donnelly, Bennet, Menendez, Reid, Coons, Cardin, Manchin, Booker, Carper, Peters, Casey, Wyden, Stabenow, Merkley, Mikulski and Murray.

Opponents need 13 Dems to side with them to override the veto. With Schumer, they now need 12. That means opponents need 12 of the 18 remaining Dems to side with them. Carper is now leaning towards the deal. So is Joe Manchin. That pool of 18 could very well be smaller in reality. So getting 12 may be a tall order.

Sargent later added an update, saying that a pro-deal source told him to add Democratic Sens. Stabenow, Merkley, Mikulski and Murray to the “might oppose” column.

So, it’s a mixed bag. On one hand, the White House is lobbying/shoring up votes in the House to sustain a veto, where their overly aggressive nature could signal that they may not have the support. At the same time, that 150 block of votes is more than enough to sustain a veto. Opponents need 44 Democrats in the House to override, and if that 150 block holds firm, they aren’t going to reach that number. With the Senate, it’s a waiting game, though the math to get to 67 is difficult, though not impossible. Eighteen possible “no” votes is quite a large subset of Democrats, but let’s just say we shouldn’t be surprised if the Iran deal’s opponents fall short of veto override votes in both chambers.

On a side note, for a president who wanted “better politics,” it’s a bit ironic that he says opponents to this deal share a “common cause” with the Iranian hardliners, and that the only alternative if we fail at this juncture is war.

"I’ve served in Congress with many of you. I know many of you well. There are a lot of good people here, on both sides of the aisle. And many of you have told me that this isn’t what you signed up for -- arguing past each other on cable shows, the constant fundraising, always looking over your shoulder at how the base will react to every decision," said President Obama at the State of the Union in January.

Oh my, how things can change … in eight months.