The Cable

Obama Defeats Bid to Reject Iran Deal  

President Barack Obama clinches enough support in Congress to prevent opponents from blocking the Iran nuclear agreement, after a senior Democrat endorses the deal.

BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 5:
at the University of Baltimore, May 5, 2015 in Baltimore, MD. Second sentence goes her. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 5: at the University of Baltimore, May 5, 2015 in Baltimore, MD. Second sentence goes her. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama scored a crucial victory Wednesday as a key Democrat said she would support his landmark nuclear deal with Iran, effectively giving him enough votes to protect the bill from congressional attempts to kill it.

Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s endorsement safeguards what the White House sees as Obama’s signature diplomatic achievement and spells a defeat for the accord’s opponents, including the Republican majority in Congress and pro-Israel lobbying groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

With momentum shifting in favor of the accord in recent weeks, AIPAC and others opposed to the deal are struggling to rally enough votes for even a symbolic show of resistance from Congress, which would require securing 60 “no” votes needed to break a Democratic filibuster and get a resolution through.

Opponents need at least six Democrats to come out against the deal to achieve that goal, but have so far only won over New York Sen. Chuck Schumer and New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez. Mikulski’s endorsement, announced in a statement, could cut both ways politically. On the one hand, it could free wavering Democrats to support the deal because they would now know they wouldn’t be providing the decisive vote. On the other, it could make it easier for fence-sitting Democrats like Mikulski’s colleague, Ben Cardin, to vote their conscience without having to worry about handing a president from their own party a historic defeat.

If the Republicans can get 60 “no” votes, a resolution opposing the deal would reach Obama’s desk, and the president would then veto it. And with 34 Democrats now in favor of the accord, opponents would not have enough votes to override Obama’s veto.

If opponents fail to get to the 60-vote threshold, it would represent a damaging setback for AIPAC, which has long wielded hefty political influence in Washington.

“No deal is perfect, especially one negotiated with the Iranian regime,” Mikulski said in her statement endorsing the deal. “I have concluded that this Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is the best option available to block Iran from having a nuclear bomb.”

Mikulski voiced her support a day after two other Senate Democrats, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Chris Coons of Delaware, came out in favor of the agreement.

Amid an intense lobbying campaign from the White House and opponents of the deal, Mikulski’s fellow Maryland Democrat, Cardin, is one of the most prominent Democrats still undecided on the accord, which would impose restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in return for lifting economic sanctions.

Photo credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Dan De Luce is Foreign Policy’s chief national security correspondent. @dandeluce

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