When conservatives gathered Wednesday afternoon at the Capitol to protest the Obama administration’s nuclear agreement with Iran, it wasn’t just the Democratic president who faced angry words from the lawmakers and activists who took the stage.
In fact, some of the loudest boos came when speakers dropped the names of Speaker John A. Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican leaders whom the rally’s speakers said would be to blame for President Barack Obama getting his way.
“Leadership got us into this mess, and they’re the only ones who can get us out,” said Rep. Dave Brat, the conservative Republican who ousted then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a Virginia Republican primary last year. “I think I know what happens when leadership does not vote with their voters!”
The White House has more than enough votes to block a vote on legislation that would prevent the deal from going into effect, placing the Republican leaders in a tough spot.
The stars of Wednesday’s show were Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump, the front-runner, and Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican who has tried to glean some of the shine from Trump’s spotlight, and maybe some of his anti-establishment supporters to his own campaign.
Cruz made his remarks against the Iran deal roughly two hours after he took to the Senate floor to voice his opposition to the deal and the sanctions that might be lifted.
“If you vote to send billions of dollars to jihadists who have pledged to murder Americans, then you bear direct responsibility for the murders carried out with the dollars you have given them,” he said. “You cannot wash your hands of that blood.”
Outside of the Capitol, Cruz’s jabs at Obama and Republican leaders only intensified in the blazing September heat in front of the fired-up crowd that had gathered, accusing Obama of trying to make the U.S. the “leading financier of radical Islamic terrorism,” abandoning “four American hostages in an Iranian hellhole,” and saying the deal would “facilitate” Iran getting a nuclear weapon.
“This Iranian nuclear deal is catastrophic. It is the single greatest national security threat facing America,” he said.
Cruz said McConnell and Boehner could stop the agreement from going into effect by simply saying Congress’ 60-day review period had not started. He said lawmakers had not been given a chance to review alleged “side deals” lawmakers say the White House formed with Tehran.
If they do not, Cruz said the “single most important issue in 2016 will be stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.” Any commander in chief, he added, should be willing to “tear to shreds this catastrophic deal,” eliciting shouts of “President Cruz” from some in the crowd.
Noting that he was a dealmaker for a living, Trump has said rather than tearing the deal “to shreds,” he would be able to find holes in the agreement if it goes into effect. Speaking with reporters inside the Capitol, Trump said if he is elected, he would “do major surgery” on the deal the Obama administration and other world powers struck with Iran over its nuclear program.
Trump received loud cheers when he said America was led by “very, very stupid people.” As president, Trump said he could change that.
“We will have so much winning if I’m elected, you might get bored with winning,” he said to loud cheers.
By the time Trump arrived on stage to boisterous applause, the rally took up more than half the West Lawn. On a day where temperatures reached the mid-90s under a beaming sun, several of the attendees sought shade under trees, umbrellas or by improvising and holding a rally sign over their heads. At one point, a fire truck and ambulance showed up at the southwest corner of the lawn and paramedics appeared to tend to an elderly woman.
Far away from the stage, CodePink protesters chanted, “Peace with Iran” over a loudspeaker.
A group of immigration activists, some children of undocumented immigrants known as “Dreamers” tried to disrupt the rally and were escorted off the lawn by the Capitol Police. Holding a sign saying, “Donald Trump is a racist,” they chanted, “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Donald Trump has got to go!”
Shortly after Trump ended his speech, some people began leaving the West Lawn. Those who stayed heard a mix of conservative Republican lawmakers and tea party celebrities alike. Phil Robertson, the “Duck Dynasty” star, spoke to his support for Israel, guns and his opposition to abortion, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin ran through a slew of red-meat one-liners.
Talk radio host Mark Levin, pointing to past American victories, garnered a long “USA!, USA!” chant from the crowd, which waved American and Israeli flags and signs, with some even wearing patriotic-themed clothing. Speaking to the Iran deal, Levin, pointing to the scaffolding on the Capitol Dome, said Republicans and their leaders should “take some of that and use it on their damn spines.”
When Trump and Palin left the stage, the two went inside for a meeting with Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., with whom Trump told reporters he discussed immigration. Trump said Palin “wanted to say hello.”
While some onstage, such as New York Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Jewish Republican, advocated for getting a new deal with Iran, others, including former Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, called for the United States to bomb “the nuclear hardware that exists in Iran today.”
Capitol Police spokeswoman Capt. Kimberly A. Schneider told CQ Roll Call that no arrests were made at the rally. Schneider said officers did respond to “several sick calls” but did not know the number or nature of the calls.
Bridget Bowman, Connor O’Brien and John Bennett contributed to this report.
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