President Barack Obama has now won enough support among Democrats in Congress to ensure that the nuclear agreement reached between world powers and Iran will move forward. But while indisputably a major political achievement, the victory is not any guarantee of long-term success. We can now see the outlines of the next phase of the struggle, in which profound disagreements over the deal persist in Washington, denying any semblance of consensus on one of the president’s most important foreign policy wins.
First, to savor the success. It remains unknown whether Senate Democrats will manage to prevent the resolution of disapproval from reaching the Senate floor, thereby avoiding the use of a presidential veto altogether, or whether the resolution will be approved, but with insufficient numbers to override a veto. This weekend, Democratic Minority Leader Sen. Harry Reid expressed his preference for a floor vote, perhaps a sign that many Democrats not only want an open debate on the merits, but also do not wish to be seen as using parliamentary procedures at the expense of transparency—but that decision is ultimately in the hands of the Republican leadership. In any case, the deal is now certain to survive Congress.
Although many congressional supporters of the deal defended their decisions based on the merits, the optics suggested that partisan considerations remained a major factor. Several senior Democratic senators came out against the deal, including Chuck Schumer of New York and Ben Cardin of Maryland, but they did not create a groundswell of momentum in their direction. Meanwhile, although major Republican establishment figures, including former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, have endorsed the agreement with strong national security arguments, no congressional Republican has come out in favor of the president’s diplomatic achievement.