The Cable

As Expected, Menendez Announces Opposition to Iran Deal

Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey announced his opposition to the Iran deal on Tuesday, becoming the second Senate Democrat to challenge the White House’s principal foreign-policy initiative -- but giving opponents of the pact little reason to be optimistic that they can derail it.

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Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey announced his opposition to the Iran deal on Tuesday, becoming the second Senate Democrat to challenge the White House’s principal foreign-policy initiative — but giving opponents of the pact little reason to be optimistic that they can derail it.

In a speech at Seton Hall University, Menendez said he will vote against the agreement, and if called upon, vote to override a presidential veto. “Whether or not the supporters of the agreement admit it, this deal is based on ‘hope.’ Hope that when the nuclear sunset clause expires, Iran will have succumbed to the benefits of commerce and global integration,” he said.

Congress is expected to vote in mid-September on the international agreement signed by the United States, Iran, China, Russia, Germany, France, and Britain. The deal is designed to curb Iran’s nuclear program through a system of inspections and guidelines in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Menendez’s decision will carry considerably less weight than that of New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who announced earlier this month he would not support the agreement. In part, that’s because Schumer is the presumptive future leader of the party in the Senate and enjoys broad support among his colleagues. But it’s also due to the stormy legal cloud hanging over Menendez’s head; in April, a grand jury indicted him on corruption charges, which led to him being ejected from his post as the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Menendez has received more money from pro-Israel donors than any other Democrat in the Senate, and members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee are personally bankrolling his legal defense fund. Still, the lawmaker portrayed his vote on Tuesday as a decision of principle and integrity.

“I have looked into my own soul and my devotion to principle may once again lead me to an unpopular course, but if Iran is to acquire a nuclear bomb, it will not have my name on it,” he said.

Thus far, some 20 Senate Democrats have announced their support for the deal, including Jon Tester of Montana, a hawkish lawmaker opponents of the pact had hoped to recruit to their side. Shortly after the Menendez speech on Tuesday, Rhode Island Senators Jack Reed (D) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D) announced their support for the agreement. Opponents of the deal would need 67 votes to override a presidential veto of legislation voiding the pact. With virtually all of the 54 GOP senators certain to vote “no” on the deal, opponents would need 13 Democrats to break ranks with President Barack Obama. So far, only two have said they will do so.

In the lower chamber, sources tell Foreign Policy that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is increasingly confident in her ability to help the White House sustain a veto.

Following his speech, the progressive group CREDO Action issued a statement opposing Menendez’s decision. “Menendez’s support for war over diplomacy isn’t surprising, but that doesn’t make it any less dangerous or irresponsible,” said Zack Malitz, the group’s campaign manager. “Is Sen. Menendez so desperate to draw attention away from his indictment on corruption charges that he’s willing to help Republicans start another war of choice in the Middle East?”

Photo credit: Getty Images

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