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Congress members begin to take sides on Iran deal — sort of

Members of the House from districts across the Greater Los Angeles region — most of them Democrats — largely have remained silent so far on whether they will support the Obama administration on the Iran deal or join Republicans and a small but increasing number of Democrats in opposition.
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August 12, 2015

Members of the House from districts across the Greater Los Angeles region — most of them Democrats — largely have remained silent so far on whether they will support the Obama administration on the Iran deal or join Republicans and a small but increasing number of Democrats in opposition. 

Among the Democrats who have remained mum are Reps. Maxine Waters of Inglewood, Tony Cardenas of the San Fernando Valley, Karen Bass of Los Angeles, Janice Hahn of Compton, Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles and Loretta Sanchez of Anaheim. 

Rep. Alan Lowenthal, the Jewish congressmemember from Long Beach, is “studying the language and specifics of the agreement closely,” a spokesperson said in an email to the Journal.

Nationwide, the decision has proven particularly delicate and difficult for members of Congress from districts with large Jewish populations — such as those in Los Angeles, New York and South Florida — who have come under scrutiny from constituents and Jewish organizations on both sides of the agreement. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is spending upward of $20 million lobbying lawmakers in opposition to the deal. J Street, on the other hand, is involved in a $5 million lobbying effort in support of the agreement.  

Congressmember Ted Lieu, who represents the largely Jewish Westside seat long held by Henry Waxman, has remained quiet since issuing a statement on the day the deal was announced that said he was studying the agreement. Lieu was in Israel earlier this month on a biannual trip to the Jewish state for freshman members of Congress funded by AIPAC’s charitable wing.

“The Congressman is still reviewing the deal and listening to constituents on the subject,” Lieu’s representative wrote in an email to the Journal. 

Only two Democratic representatives from L.A. have announced their decisions: Adam Schiff and Brad Sherman, both of whom are Jewish, but who have come out on opposite sides of the issue. 

Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said he would vote for it. In a statement, he pointed to the deal’s strength within the 15-year timetable. Although he expressed concern for particular components of the agreement, he said that, on balance, the deal is a step in the right direction.

“We will still need to guard against any Iranian effort to obtain nuclear material or technology from proliferators abroad — a reality even if they had given up all enrichment — but the agreement likely gives the world at least a decade and a half without the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon and without going to war to make that so. That is a major achievement,” Schiff said.

In contrast, Sherman, the second-ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, indicated that the possibility of Iran making a nuclear weapon at the end of 15 years is a significant reason he will oppose the deal. “The Ugly,” as Sherman called it in a statement, is that, “in 15 years or less, Iran is permitted to have an unlimited quantity of centrifuges of unlimited quality, as well as heavy water reactors and reprocessing facilities.

“We must force modifications of the agreement, and extensions of its nuclear restrictions, before it gets ugly,” Sherman said. 

To scuttle the agreement, opponents need to assemble 60 votes in the Senate to overcome a filibuster and pass a resolution of condemnation. If they achieve this and President Barack Obama vetoes the measure, as he has promised to do, the deal’s opponents will then have the difficult task of rallying a two-thirds majority in both Houses to override the veto.

Congress returns from its break on Sept. 8 and has until Sept. 17 to review the agreement. 

In the Senate, all 54 Republicans are expected to stand against the agreement. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, a prominent Jew and the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate, is the only member of Obama’s party in the upper chamber to announce opposition to the deal so far. 

Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, both Jews from California, each have announced they will support the deal, as have Jewish Democratic Sens. Al Franken of Minnesota and Brian Schatz of Hawaii, and Jewish independent senator and candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, Bernie Sanders. 

In the House, Republican Reps. Ed Royce of Orange County and Peter Roskam of Illinois each have floated resolutions condemning the deal. Although GOP members are expected to reject the deal via the bill authored by Royce, the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Roskam announced on Aug. 3 that he had acquired 218 co-sponsors for his own measure, suggesting that either resolution would easily receive support from a majority of the House. 

Achieving 290 votes — the two-thirds majority number required for overriding a presidential veto — will be a more daunting task. So far, only nine House Democrats have announced opposition to the deal, but that group does include a few prominent Jewish representatives. Among the deal’s Jewish detractors are New York Reps. Steve Israel and Eliot Engel, the highest-ranking Jewish House Democrat and the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, respectively.

Two other Jewish Democrats — Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Sandy Levin of Michigan — have backed the deal. Levin is the longest-serving Jewish member of Congress.

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