Colorado’s senior U.S. Senator Michael Bennet is spared from having to cast the do-or-die vote on President Obama’s belabored nuclear deal with Iran now that fellow Democrat Barbara Mikulski of Maryland has volunteered to do it. On Wednesday morning, she pledged the 34th vote needed in the upper chamber to assure the landmark foreign policy accord will survive Congress.
Still, pressure on the undecided Sen. Bennet shows no signs of letting up.
Soon after Mikulski’s announcement, Colorado’s former Senator and current foreign policy adviser Gary Hart held a press conference at the Capitol in Denver to nudge Bennet to back the deal.
Appearing alongside the Truman National Security Project — a group of post-9/11 veterans rallying support for the Iran deal — Hart said he and former U.S. Sen. Tim Wirth recently sat down with Bennet for a lengthy conversation.
“We urged Senator Bennet to make the right decision, and I think he will,” he said. “My guess is it’ll be sooner rather than later.”
Bennet needs to make up his mind on a resolution opposing the deal that’s slated to hit the Senate floor by Sept. 17 at the latest. A similar such resolution is expected to pass the House handily. Obama has said he would veto any opposition measure that crosses his desk, but a two-thirds majority in both chambers could override his veto. With House Republicans well-poised to pull that off, all eyes are on the Senate where every Republican and two Democrats disapprove of the deal. Mikulski’s newly pledged support gives the minority the bare minimum vote-count it needs to prevent veto override in the Senate.
The Obama administration would prefer it not come to that.
Garnering lukewarm support from one-third of one chamber in Congress hardly projects the kind of unity and strength the U.S. needs to lead the international community — especially on foreign policy as contentious as this.
“The diplomatic and political fallout from withdrawing would be horrible,” Hart said Wednesday.
The agreement struck in July by diplomats from the U.S., Iran and five other world powers aims to curb Iran’s nuclear capabilities in exchange for lifting economic sanctions. Critics across the political spectrum worry the pact isn’t strict enough to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon or funding more terrorism in the region.
With the Jewish community sharply divided over the Iran deal and pro-Israel groups lobbying hard against it, the handful of Democrats still on the fence are in a tough spot. With Holocaust survivors in his own family and facing a costly re-election bid, Sen. Bennet is weighing the options carefully.
“The stakes are high, and the details of this deal matter,” he said in a statement issued soon after the deal was announced. “Congress has an important responsibility in this process, and playing politics right now is the last thing we need.”
Bennet had no comment on Wednesday’s developments, but a staffer in his D.C. office indicated that other members’ votes will have no bearing on the Senator’s decision and cautioned against reading too far into Hart’s pronouncement.
Junior Senator from Colorado Cory Gardner has already voiced opposition to the deal.
Photo credit: Bernard Pollack, Creative Commons, Flickr.