Credibility, it turns out, matters a lot. It is the only real power a president has if he governs in divided government. The power to persuade and the power to compel your allies to stick with you demands that what you say is true and that following a president’s lead, sometimes against immediate self-interest, won’t harm your allies’ credibility with voters, donors, outside groups and like-minded supporters.

President Obama speaks by telephone with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. (Pete Souza for the White House via Agence France-Press)
President Obama speaks by telephone with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. (Pete Souza for the White House via Agence France-Press)

The Senate Democrats are now in a very uncomfortable spot, having gone to bat for Obamacare, stuck by it during the shutdown and repeated the president’s talking points. Now their credibility is at issue. Unsurprisingly, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is going after the incumbents up in 2014 with e-mails such as this:

As many as 80% of people who don’t have a company-hosted plan or insurance through the Medicare or Medicaid government programs may have to find new health coverage, said Robert Laszewski, an insurance-industry consultant in Arlington, Virginia. About 19 million people are included in this market. Using census data, that means as many as 16.4 million women are at risk of having their individual insurance coverage cancelled under ObamaCare – a majority of the market.  Every one of these women were deceived by the President and by Democratic Senators like Mary Landrieu, Jeanne Shaheen, Kay Hagan and Mark Begich, and Congressmen like Gary Peters and Bruce Braley.  They aren’t going to forget about that.

Ouch. The same thing is underway and has been for some time on foreign policy. On Syria, the president came out strong after a long period of inertness. So Democratic and Republican leaders, acting responsibly, lent support for an authorization for use of force, despite voters’ overwhelming opposition. Obama then crumbled, delivering a bewildering speech to the country and off-loading his policy to Russia.

To no conservative critic’s surprise, the same phenomenon is underway on Iran. How many times have we heard that we will not allow a nuclear-armed Iran? How many times did the president stand up for sanctions as a means of pressuring the Iranians to give up their weapons? (At least as many times as he said you could keep your insurance plan if you like it.) But now, a full-court press is underway, according to multiple Capitol Hill sources, first with outside pro-Israel groups and then with briefings for lawmakers (on the Senate side today and tomorrow) to convince them to hold up on further sanctions.

So far the administration has been spectacularly unsuccessful in what many lawmakers perceive is an attempt for a phony “interim” agreement that would ease up on sanctions, thereby disabling the last leverage we have to prevent Iran from going nuclear. Ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and a slew of other Republicans were adamant earlier in the week. Reuters reported on some of these:

Senator Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a member of the Senate Banking Committee, which is considering the sanctions package, said lawmakers were skeptical because they felt they had to push the White House to back strict sanctions on Tehran. “It’s incumbent upon them over the next 24 to 48 hours to persuade folks like me and others that the course of action they want to follow is a sound one,” Corker told Reuters. . .

Senator Mark Kirk, a Republican member of the banking panel who is a strong backer of tougher sanctions, said he opposed any further delay. “Every day the Senate delays consideration of new sanctions, Iran installs more centrifuges, enriches more uranium and improves its nuclear breakout capability,” he said, referring to the ability to enrich uranium for use in a bomb. “If Iran is capable of negotiating while violating international law, the United States should be equally capable of negotiating while imposing new sanctions pressure,” Kirk said in a statement.

There seems to be no change in the position he articulated earlier in the month in a written statement. “With limited time for diplomacy to work, the administration should hold firm on sanctions, which brought Iran to the table and remain the greatest leverage point we have.  Eagerness to exploit an opening with Iran should not lead to concessions before Iran takes verifiable steps to eliminate their nuclear weapons program.  Congress can play a constructive role by putting in place tough conditions on Iran before any easing of sanctions can occur.”

Likewise, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) hasn’t moved off his speech on Monday — a tough rebuff of any attempt to lift sanctions without real progress — according to his staff.

Pro-Israel groups, according to a knowledgeable source, also are “hanging strong” despite the administration claims that tough new sanctions would “derail negotiations.” This has not stopped the administration, however, from reaching out to sympathetic pundits or letting up on its “blitz of the Hill,” as a pro-Israel group’s official put it.

If nothing else, the pro-Israel community and lawmakers on Capitol Hill have learned to regard every statement from this administration with care. What are they shading? What are they not saying? What is being left out? However, from the briefings delivered by Susan Rice, Jack Lew and Wendy Sherman, one thing is patently obvious: This administration is desperate for a deal for which the president can claim “success” and thereby hold off demands for further U.S. action. What is next, an SOS to Vladimir Putin? Lawmakers are entirely justified in their skepticism.

UPDATE: A GOP senator tells Right Turn: “The White House track record on Iran has been consistently bad.  If it were up to them, we wouldn’t have the sanctions we already have in place today.  Strangely enough, there is bipartisan support in the Congress for placing additional sanctions on Iran.  Finally, the only time we should even entertain relief for Iran is when they stop enriching.”

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.