by Jim Lobe
While LobeLog generally shuns “breaking news,” Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey’s announcement Tuesday that he supports the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action (JCPOA) merits special notice. According to my calculations, Casey’s announcement, which was coupled with a lengthy and thoughtful memorandum on why he reached his decision, makes it a virtual certainty that Obama will have enough support among Senate Democrats to sustain his veto – if one proves necessary — of any resolution to reject the nuclear deal.
Indeed, it’s looks increasingly possible that a veto may not be even necessary. If 41 Democrats (including the two independents, Bernie Sanders and Angus King) oppose such a resolution, it won’t even get to the president’s desk. And, with Delaware Sen. Chris Coons joining Casey and what is becoming a remarkably strong majority of his Democratic colleagues, that prospect is certainly looming into view. With Coons, I count 33 Democratic senators on record as supporting the deal. With another half dozen reportedly leaning in that direction… well, you can do the math. Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski is also expected to announce her support imminently, which would bring the veto-relevant total to the magic 34.
That said, Casey’s decision marks a major victory for the administration and the independent groups that have rallied behind the JCPOA. Until now, the Pennsylvania senator has been a staunch ally of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and a steadfast hawk on Iran. Shortly after winning reelection in 2012, Casey spoke before the neoconservative (and mainly Republican) Foundation for Defense of Democracies which sang his praises in the latter regard. “Few leaders have done as much as Senator Casey to confront Iran, our greatest threat in the Middle East,” noted FDD board member Ken Schwarz in his introduction.
(Of the 15 Democrats who co-sponsored that bill, Casey and Coons have become the third and fourth — after Gillibrand and Donnelly — to endorse the JCPOA. Four others – Begich, Pryor, Landrieu, and Hagan – were defeated in their reelection bids. Five others – Cardin, Blumenthal, Warner, Booker, and Manchin – haven’t yet announced their positions, while Menendez and Schumer are the only two Senate Democrats who have pledged to reject the deal.)
Casey was also one of just eight original Democratic co-sponsors of S. 269, the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015, that was introduced by Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, AIPAC’s most loyal Republican in the upper chamber. Other Democratic co-sponsors of that bill included Menendez, Schumer, Blumenthal, Donnelly, Manchin, and Peters (who has also come out in favor of the JCPOA). That legislation, a milder version of the “Wag the Dog” bill, albeit also intended to sabotage the P5+1 talks, became mired in parliamentary mismanagement and never made it to the floor.
Casey’s co-sponsorship of these bills is not the only thing that makes his support for the JCPOA so significant, however. My understanding from sources on Capitol Hill is that, once Schumer announced his opposition to the deal with Iran, Casey became one of the top three — along with Cardin (the ranking member of Senate Foreign Relations Committee) and Booker – lobbying targets for AIPAC and the various donors who have contributed millions to the campaign to secure a veto-proof majority against the nuclear deal.
Casey’s decision not only brings Obama to the brink of victory in his quest to secure the 34 Democratic votes in the Senate to sustain any veto. It may also provide additional political cover – and inject some spine – into still-wavering Democrats, including, perhaps Cardin and Booker. If they break in the president’s favour, the chances that Obama will be forced to wield his veto will likely be substantially reduced – which would be a remarkable victory indeed, particularly given the tens of millions of dollars spent on this campaign by the opposition.
Of course, Benjamin Netanyahu, AIPAC and the Republicans, who are already working on new sanctions legislation, will not be deterred. And, while Obama now looks set to win a mighty big battle in the Senate later this month, the war over the future of U.S. policy toward Iran is hardly over.