Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Does World Peace Depend On Steny Hoyer and Ben Cardin of Maryland?

That would be Steny Hoyer (D-MD), minority whip in the House of Representatives, reportedly still undecided about the Iran nuclear deal, as well as Benjamin Cardin, also (D-MD) of the US Senate.  The minority whip in the Senate, the person who is supposed to line up party members to vote on bills, Chuck Schumer of New York, has come out against the Iran nuclear deal.  While it does not appear that he is working hard to convince other Dem senators to join him, his decision makes it much easier for fence-sitting Dem senators to join him in opposing the deal (there might actually be one Republican senator for the deal, Jeff Flake of  AZ).

Watching the Washington Post and certain blogs (especially Juan Cole) closely, it is clear to me that in neither house of Congress is there yet a third of members who support the deal.  This is what is needed to sustain the veto that Obama will do of the bill that will almost surely pass both houses to cancel the deal.  Many are complacent and simply assume the veto will be sustained, but this is far from certain, far from clear.

Public opinion has turned sharply against the deal.  It has not been just a matter of members of Congress telling Secretary Kerry that he is some kind of fool who was "bamboozled," but a heavy round of ads criticizing the deal, with all but zero ads countering the misrepresentations in these skillfully produced ads.  Heck, they are so well done, I am almost convinced the deal is bad after watching one.  Congress is on recess at home listening to the home folks, and what is going on is a major barrage under the radar of criticisms of the deal, with a story about alleged violations at the Parchin military base in Iran in yesterday's WaPo feeding the frenzy (this has to do with them sanitizing the place about past nuclear research, which we know they did but which everybody agrees they stopped over a decade ago, but somehow some think it is very important that we have every shred of information about that).

It has gotten to the point that the usual VSPs in Washington are at their old tricks of tilting to a hardline warhawk policy, even when they actually know better.  So, in recent days we have seen that old reliable and former fan of the Iraq war, Fred Hiatt, denouncing Obama for daring to suggest that opponents of the Iran deal were supporters of the Iraq war, noting he supports the deal, although he then proceeded to go on at length about a list of supposed flaws it has.  Today we had Ruth Marcus, admitting that it will simply be a disaster if the deal is not approved, but tut tutting at Obama for speaking too  strongly at American University for it and his supposedly disrespectful remarks about intelligent critics who are raising serious points supposedly.  Even the usually perspicacious David Ignatius, who is better informed and generally much wiser than the awful Hiatt, was while saying that the deal must go through was suggesting that somehow Obama "needs to throw Congress a bone."  Well, David Ignatius, just what kind of bone would that be that would not upset Iran, not to mention the unanimous UN Security Council?  Certainly there is no bone the GOP in Congress will take, and I am unclear what bone can be thrown to these Dem fence sitters, who are apparently getting all offended and upset over Obama's strong language and vigorous advocacy of the deal, poor things.

So, not only has Schumer defected from Obama in the Senate, but his boss, Harry Reid is simply not putting any pressure that anybody can see on wavering Dems to support the deal.  Maybe he will in the end, but the current count has supporters in the teens with likely supporters only in the 20s, whereas supporters of the deal need 34.  There is a serious distance to go, and without a "bone," it is very unclear that the distance will be filled there, especially without any push coming from the leadership (maybe Reid will do something by the time it gets down to it).  But, the hard fact is that the probability of a failure in the Senate to sustain Obama's veto is much higher than most are thinking is the case.  Complacency on this is completely out of place.

Which brings us to the House of Representatives and Representative Cardin.  Again, those who have pubicly stated their support for the bill remain far below the number needed to sustain the veto, despite some prestigious Jewish members having done so, including Sander  Levin of Michigan, the most senior of Jewish members of Congress, and Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Dem on the House Intelligence Committee, whose support one would think might be taken seriously.  Furthermore, in contrast to Reid, Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader, has come out strongly for the deal and is reportedly pushing members to save it.  That may be sufficient, but Cardin, her whip, looks like the real key. If he not only signs on but joins Pelosi in urging other Dems to do so, this would probably be enough to  bring that total supporting the veto to the necessary one third number.

So, it may well come down to the US House of Representatives, not  the supposedly more deliberative US Senate, to save the world from a major war in the Middle East by sustaining President Obama's veto of the bill to reject the deal, and having Ben Cardin support this effort may just be the key to making sure that this happens.

Note on Changes made day later:  I goofed.  This post previously had Benjamin Cardin as the crucial undecided House Minority Whip.  In fact, it is Steny Hoyer, who is also from Maryland and is currently in Israel on this trip with 21 other Congresspeople and has just told CNN that he remains undecided on the Iran deal.  Cardin is the junior senator from Maryland and is important for the outcome in the Senate, probably the most important undecided there.  His status comes from long international experience, including service on the Board and as Vice President of the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe.  He is crucial for what happens in the Senate.  I apologize for this snafu, but the bottom line of this post remains that the Senate is quite likely not to support the deal, especially if Cardin does not do so, which will put it on the House, where Minority Whip Hoyer will be crucial in helping Nancy Pelosi whip enough Dems together to sustain the veto.

Barkley Rosser