Obama's on a roll on Iran, and AIPAC's panicking

Obama's on a roll on Iran, and AIPAC's panicking
Comment: Democratic Party senators are lining up behind the US president's nuclear deal, and the Israel lobby knows it, says Said Arikat.
4 min read
27 Aug, 2015
The Israel lobby is not getting its way in the US [Anadolu]
Barack Obama returned from his annual summer holiday last week to a gleeful White House relishing more good news on the Iran deal.

Looking fit and ready, the US president jumped off Marine-1 knowing that, earlier in the day, Senate minority leader Harry Reid announced that he would support the Iran deal, and he would push hard to ensure that the deal survived a Republican congressional rejection.

Reid said there was a lack of any viable alternative put forth by those who opposed the deal.

"It is a fantasy to say that if Congress rejects the agreement, the administration can simply go back and get a better agreement," he said. "That is not a real option and we should not pretend that it is."

His endorsement almost guarantees that Obama will have the 34 Democratic votes in the Senate needed to ensure the Republicans can not override a presidential veto.

But Reid's endorsement does more than that, as it makes it more difficult for the Democrats to break ranks with their president, quite possibly sparing Obama the discomfort - even embarrassment - of having to cast a veto.

     Reid's endorsement almost guarantees Obama will have the votes needed to ensure the Republicans can not override a presidential veto.

Obama needs one third of either the Senate or the House to sustain his veto - if he issues it.

The Senate is made up of 100 members. Republicans hold the majority with 54, the Democrats 44 - and there are two independents who normally vote with the Democrats.

The Senate operates under a rule requiring 67 per cent of members to vote against the president to override his veto. Should all Republicans vote against the deal, they would still need 13 Democratic votes for an override - an almost unimaginable outcome.

This especially at a time when Obama has been scoring huge wins on the economy, healthcare, gay rights and diplomatic relations with Cuba - while the Republicans look disoriented with no one leading them out of the wilderness.

Would Democratic senators really risk torpedoing the Obama administration when it's on such a roll?

Quite a difference a week makes. Last Tuesday, Democratic senator Bob Menendez, who has a long record of backing the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC, denounced the Iran deal. 

At the time of writing this article, the buzz around Washington is that AIPAC is putting a huge amount of pressure on Menendez's fellow Democrat from New Jersey, Cory Booker, to vote against the deal. One Senate official told me he felt "totally besieged".

But by midday on Tuesday, the Iran deal's passage received another boost when Patty Murray announced her support, becoming the final member of the Senate's main Democratic leadership team to weigh in on the agreement.

She is the secretary of the Senate Democratic conference, and her backing lines up with Reid and minority whip Dick Durbin in stating support.

AIPAC stalwart Chuck Schumer, the conference's vice-chairman and head of its policy committee, is opposed.

Admittedly, AIPAC wields much influence in US politics. It reportedly has $40 million dedicated to defeating the Iran deal alone, and unrivalled organisational infrastructure with thousands of volunteers able to descend on any electoral district with biblical vigour to campaign for the required outcome. One can safely assume its fight is far from over.

Still, an AIPAC watcher could detect an air of panic and frustration. On Tuesday, AIPAC unleashed Republican senator Tom Cotton to attack Obama and Reid.

"First, the president did an end-run around the constitution by refusing to submit the Iran deal as a treaty requiring a two-thirds vote of the Senate for approval," he said. "Now Harry Reid wants to deny the American people a voice entirely by blocking an up-or-down vote on this terrible deal."

As the clock ticks on the mid-September congressional vote, the momentum for the Iran deal is gaining strength. If the trend holds, Obama's victory over AIPAC will look like a rout.

Said Arikat is the Washington bureau chief of the Jerusalem-based al-Quds newspaper.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.