The Obama administration is extremely close to sealing enough congressional support to ensure the survival of its landmark nuclear deal with Iran, after Sens. Robert Casey and Chris Coons on Tuesday became the latest key Democrats to announce their support.
“Preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon has been, and will continue to be, one of my top national security priorities,” said Casey in a statement. “At this time, I believe supporting the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is the best way to do that.”
And Coons, according to his prepared remarks of his speech at the University of Delaware, said: “I will support this agreement because it puts us on a known path of limiting Iran’s nuclear program for the next 15 years with the full support of the international community. The alternative, to me, is a scenario of uncertainty and isolation.”
The announcements underscore the failure of anti-deal groups such as AIPAC in trying to pry Democrats from the president so far—as well as the low bar necessary for an Obama victory. Casey, who earlier this year cosponsored legislation to increase Iran sanctions should the negotiations fail to strike a deal by the end of June, was seen as one of the most likely Democratic no votes. Coons was labeled by Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin as a harbinger for undecided Democrats.
“The Republicans decided on their position pretty early on. They rightly drew attention to the weaknesses of the deal—that was their responsibility and they did it,” said Nicholas Burns, a Harvard professor and former George W. Bush undersecretary of State who testified before Congress on the Iran deal. “They had the momentum, but especially over the last several weeks I think enough Democrats have come forward to announce their support in the House and Senate that it’s now inevitable the president is going to be able to win the vote eventually even if he has to veto. His veto will be sustained and it will move forward.”
“He was considered to be one of those senators who was truly on the fence,” Burns added of Casey. “So the fact that he announced his support is significant.”
When asked if he had an “ah-ha” moment after the speech, Coons replied that a closed-door meeting held several weeks ago with the ambassadors of the other global powers involved starkly portrayed how difficult it would be to continue broad-reaching sanctions in order to find a better deal. The opponents’ “walk away, sanction them further” strategy is “full of holes,” according to Burns, who supports the deal.
“That’s the fundamental reason why the President is going to be able to go forward,” Burns told National Journal. “He wasn’t met by a convincing, practical alternative in the way that the world really works.”
The deal’s opponents have only been successful at corralling two Senate Democrats, Chuck Schumer of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, to their side despite plans to spend more than $20 million on a persuasion campaign. Those two states account for eight of the 14 Democratic congressmen in opposition, according to The Hill’s whip count, and Representatives with smaller Jewish constituencies have overwhelmingly sided with the administration.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has said that there are enough members in her caucus to support and uphold the deal should a resolution of disapproval come to a vote after Congress comes back into session next week. And even if there aren’t, it looks like there will be enough Senate Democrats to back the pact, which lifts sanctions worth up to $150 billion in return for significantly limiting Iran’s nuclear program for at least a decade. Casey and Coons are the 32nd and 33rd senators to support the deal, while only 34 are necessary to sustain a veto.
Should both chambers of Congress vote to disapprove the deal with a two-thirds, veto-proof majority, the administration wouldn’t be able to lift congressional sanctions, which could blow up the international agreement. Some Democrats hope to muster 41 Senate votes for the agreement, which would prevent the chamber from even holding a final passage vote on disapproving the deal.
Coons said after his speech Tuesday that such an outcome is currently a “very close call.”
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.
Alex Rogers covers Congress as a staff correspondent for National Journal. He previously worked as a political reporter at TIME. He is a native of Bethesda, Maryland and a graduate of Vanderbilt University.