Robert Menendez, a senior Democratic senator, announced Tuesday that he would oppose the Iran deal when it comes up for a vote next month, delivering an intraparty blow to President Obama as he personally lobbies members while on vacation.
The announcement was expected—the senator from New Jersey had been a fierce critic of the nuclear talks and an author of Iran sanction bills—but it does add fuel to the opposition a few weeks after Sen. Chuck Schumer, the presumptive next Democratic leader, also decided to come out against the landmark accord.
It's still unclear, though, whether there will be enough Democrats to join Republicans in passing a resolution of disapproval, which could blow up the deal negotiated by Iran, the U.S., and five global powers. If Obama needs to veto such a resolution, 34 senators would be necessary to sustain it; the latest whip counts have as many as 22 Democratic senators in support of the president, only two—Schumer and Menendez—against it, and the rest undecided. If Congress can override a veto with the support of two-thirds of both chambers, Obama won't be able to lift congressional sanctions, which would leave an opening for Iran to charge that the U.S. hasn't lived up to its word and potentially back out of the deal.
The administration is doing everything in its power to avoid that outcome, but it's facing fierce resistance from well-funded outside groups such as the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, which plans to spend upwards of $20 million on the fight. Menendez has locked arms with AIPAC, telling the group in March, "When it comes to defending the U.S.-Israel relationship, I am not intimidated by anyone—not Israel's political enemies and not by my political friends when I believe they're wrong."
In a lengthy, detailed speech—the prepared text scrolled for more than 6,000 words—Menendez knocked the deal for falling dramatically from its "stated purpose" of fully dismantling Iran's nuclear infrastructure to one that merely limits it for 10 to 15 years. Menendez said that one of the administration's overarching claims—that the deal lengthens Iran's "breakout time" to obtain a nuclear warhead from a few months to a year—amounts to purchasing "a very expensive alarm system." Iran will obtain access to about $56 billion in revenue frozen under sanctions should the country abide by its commitments, according to the president.