House Democrats Forced to Choose Sides in Iran Debate

The White House wants House members like Israel to get behind the Iran nuclear deal. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
The White House wants House members like Israel to get behind the Iran nuclear deal. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted April 10, 2015 at 3:50am

House Democrats on the fence about the White House’s proposed nuclear deal with Iran will be asked next week to close ranks and get behind the president.  

With the House and Senate getting back to work on April 13 after a two-week recess, most of the legislative action is set to be in the Senate, where the Foreign Relations Committee will begin marking up its bill giving Congress power to override President Barack Obama’s emerging deal to disarm Iran.  

But Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, has made it clear that, short of the White House dramatically changing course, he would support the House acting on similar legislation, perhaps even taking up the Senate’s product (assuming it passes). It means a large number of House Democrats will, sooner rather than later, have to decide to whom they owe the most loyalty: their president, who opposes congressional action he says will undermine administration-level negotiations and diplomacy; or Israel, an important ally that could be inherently threatened by an Iran with nuclear capabilities.  

Obama administration officials are set to begin a charm offensive tour next week, aimed at talking Republicans down from seeking to override the emerging deal and convincing wavering Democrats to get on their side.  

On April 13 at 5 p.m., Secretary of State John Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest J. Moniz and Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew, among others, will be on Capitol Hill to provide House lawmakers in both parties a classified briefing on the so-called P5+1 agreement, which would facilitate the nuclear disarmament of Iran over a 15-year period and must be signed off on by the end of June.  

At House Democrats’ regularly scheduled Tuesday caucus meeting, Kerry and Moniz are slated to make a repeat appearance.  

Some House Democrats have already started drawing lines in the sand, with senior lawmakers’ positions likely to influence some undecideds.  

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., issued a statement slamming the pending Senate bill, sponsored by Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.  

“Diplomacy has taken us to a framework agreement founded on vigilance and enforcement, and these negotiations must be allowed to proceed unencumbered,” Pelosi said. “Senator Corker’s legislation undermines these international negotiations and represents an unnecessary hurdle to achieving a strong, final agreement. In the weeks ahead, we must give this diplomatic framework room to succeed.”  

House Armed Services ranking member Adam Smith, D-Wash., agreed with Pelosi, saying “opponents should seek to guide the framework towards a positive outcome, not attempt to derail a final comprehensive deal.”  

Meanwhile, Rep. Steve Israel of New York, a Jewish lawmaker who runs the House Democrats’ Policy and Communications Committee, is in favor of Congress weighing in. “The details deserve and must get a vote by the U.S. Congress. Until the full details are provided to Congress on June 30, you can keep me in the ‘highly skeptical’ column,” he said.  

The House’s No. 2 Democrat, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, said he “look[ed] forward to being briefed in greater details on the specifics,” and that “Congress has an important role to play in reviewing an agreement.” But the Maryland lawmaker stopped short of expressing support for legislation like that sponsored by Corker and Menendez.  

As Democrats were discussing optics and weighing options over the recess, Boehner seemed to be enjoying seeing the minority party divided on the matter.  

In a preview of what Democrats might expect in the days ahead, Boehner’s press shop posted blog items under the headline “A party split,” quoting Democrats expressing reservations about the deal. A separate entry, titled “Nice try,” poked at the president for predicting that if Congress scuttled the agreement, it would be due to partisan politics, not sound analysis.  

“The American people and bipartisan members of Congress have real, substantive concerns about the administration’s emerging nuclear deal with Iran,” Boehner spokesman Cory Fritz writes in the latter post. “If the president was truly confident he’s on a path to a good agreement, he wouldn’t be presenting false choices, questioning people’s personal motives, or playing the blame game. He’d be making a clear, detailed case for the emerging agreement, and encouraging Congress and the American people to fully review it.”  

While House Democrats may be torn over the Iran deal, they’re expected to be united in opposition to a series of Republican-sponsored bills targeting financial regulations and the IRS. Nearly a dozen of such measures are scheduled for floor activity this week.  

Correction 5:49 p.m. A previous version of this story misidentified the state Adam Smith represents. He represents Washington.  


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