But the White House was able to do enough to ensure the bare-minimum support necessary to implement the deal. For weeks, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has expressed confidence that there would be enough members in her party to sustain a veto, should one be necessary. In the Senate, it helped to lower expectations—instead of searching for 41 votes to filibuster, the target was only 34—the number necessary to sustain a veto-override attempt. Congress looks to take up a resolution of disapproval, which would imperil the deal by barring the administration from lifting congressional sanctions, in the next few weeks.
When asked who gave a persuasive argument in opposition, Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. Robert Casey, a key swing vote who came out for the pact this week, told National Journal, “I didn’t hear one.” He said that a “credible alternative” was especially hard to find as Iran’s nuclear program currently has a breakout time of two to three months.
“You can’t say well maybe if we go back and do more sanctioning that will get them to the table and it will get others to the table,” said Casey, who spoke to the president a few times and Secretary [of State John] Kerry about the deal as recently as last week, according to an aide. “We don’t have time for maybes, and what ifs, and try tos.”
Even at points when the White House could have veered off course, it was able to keep moving forward.
On Aug. 6, Chuck Schumer, possibly the next Senate Democratic leader, announced his opposition. White House press secretary Josh Earnest waved off the blow as “disappointing” and “not particularly surprising.” In the following weeks, Schumer didn’t appear to influence many of his colleagues. When asked if he was whipped by Schumer, Casey said simply, “No.”
Both in and outside of Congress, Jewish leaders and groups—who warn of an Iran publicly committed to the destruction of Israel—have been among the highest priority in the administration’s push for the deal. Making the case to Jewish groups last week, Obama tried to relate to the Jewish community’s skepticism of Iran, and by extension, a negotiated agreement with the nation.
“It’s been said repeatedly—and I think as an African-American I understand—history teaches us that man can be very cruel to man and you have to take threats seriously,” Obama said.
“We all call upon our own experiences,” said senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. “That’s what forms who we are. And so I think his desire to share a bit of his understanding is important.”
The opposition is well-funded. The powerful pro-Israel group AIPAC created a new advocacy group that plans to spend more than $20 million in its campaign, according to Patrick Dorton, the Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran spokesperson. But the deal’s opponents haven’t been able to move many Democrats outside some constituencies in New York, New Jersey, and Florida. Morton Klein, head of the Zionist Organization of America, said that AIPAC should have embraced harsher rhetoric in lobbying against the deal.