Patty Murray (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Patty Murray (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Add two more prominent Senators to the list of lawmakers who oppose a vote on an Iran sanctions bill right now: Patty Murray and Elizabeth Warren.

Murray’s opposition — which she declared in a letter to constituents that was sent my way by a source — is significant, because she is a member of the Senate Dem leadership, which is now clearly split on how to proceed. While Chuck Schumer favors the Iran sanctions bill, Murray, Harry Reid and (reportedly) Dick Durbin now oppose it. This could make it less likely that it ever gets a vote.

From Murray’s letter:

Please know that I share your concerns about the Iranian government’s nuclear program. Like you, I am troubled by Iran’s nuclear enrichment program and their desire to enrich nuclear materials above levels required for energy production. That is why I was pleased to see Iran take measurable steps toward addressing the international community’s concerns by signing the Joint Plan of Action last fall…While I still remain concerned about Iran’s nuclear program, I believe this agreement could be an important step in our efforts to reach a diplomatic solution to this complicated issue.

I believe the Administration should be given time to negotiate a strong verifiable comprehensive agreement. However, if Iran does not agree to a comprehensive agreement that is acceptable, or if Iran does not abide by the terms of the interim agreement, I will work with my colleagues to swiftly enact sanctions in order to increase pressure on the Iranian regime.

This hits some of the key points: The mere possibility of a long term deal is worth trying for, and sanctions can always be imposed later if the talks go awry.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Warren is circulating a letter to constituents out there that also opposes a vote. Asked about the letter, Warren spokesperson Lacey Rose emails me:

“Senator Warren believes we must exhaust every effort to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue through diplomacy, and she does not support imposing additional sanctions through new legislation while diplomatic efforts to achieve a long-term agreement are ongoing.”

Warren’s pull with the Democratic base, of course, is largely rooted in her emphasis on economic issues, but there has been some chatter in liberal circles inquiring about her stance on Iran. Since a mobilized left is important in preventing a vote that could derail diplomacy, her opposition can only help.

The method by which both Senators declared their positions — letters to constituents, in response to questions perhaps stoked by pressure from outside groups — says something about the caution Dems are demonstrating when it comes to the domestic politics of engagement with Iran. Those who favored a vote were far more vocal at first — as of now, 16 Dem Senators have signed on. But the continued silence of many Dem Senators signaled a broad unwillingness to join the bill, even as many were unwilling to publicly declare this to be the case, since Dems apparently see allowing negotiations to proceed, without getting a chance to vote in favor of getting tougher on Iran, as a politically difficult position to take.

If current conditions remain, a vote is starting to look less and less likely. Right now, the bill has 58 co-sponsors. On the other side, 10 Dem Senate committee chairs have signed a letter opposing a vote. Around half a dozen Dem Senators subsequently came out against it. With Murray and Warren, the number of Dems against a vote has comfortably surpassed the number who want one.

Meanwhile, announcements like the one earlier this month indicating that the deal with Iran is moving forward make a vote still less likely. With Murray now opposed, that means virtually the whole Dem leadership is a No. On the other hand, those who adamantly want a vote — insisting it would only help the White House and make success more likely, despite what the White House itself wants — will be looking for any hook they can find to reactivate pressure.

And it’s worth stressing that if this ever did come to a vote, it’s quite possible that many of the Dems still remaining silent could still vote Yes. Those Democrats would be putting themselves in a ridiculous, untenable position if they did that, but since many appear convinced that the alternative is politically worse, it remains a very real possibility.


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