The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Morning Plum: No Obama ‘sales pitch’ on Iran will win over Republicans

Can we please stop pretending that a good “sales pitch” from President Obama is what is required to get Congressional Republicans to support any final nuclear deal with Iran?

In an interview with the New York Times’ Tom Friedman, Obama laid out his most extensive pitch yet for a deal, articulating what Friedman called an “Obama doctrine.” That doctrine essentially holds that the United States is powerful enough to at least test the proposition that engagement, over time, can serve American interests better than “endless sanctions and isolation,” as Friedman put it — and that we should do this even if testing that proposition entails risk. That’s because, if engagement fails, the U.S. can readjust.

Yes, Obama’s effort to “sell” any Iran deal could shape public opinion towards it. But Republicans will likely oppose a final deal no matter what is in it or what the public thinks of it. The real reason Obama’s “sales pitch” — and its impact on public opinion — might matter is due to its impact on Congressional Democrats.

There has now been some movement in favor of the White House position among Democrats. On CNN yesterday, Senator Dianne Feinstein — who has good “hawkish” credentials — confirmed that she would vote against the current version of the Corker-Menendez bill, which would suspend Obama’s authority to lift sanctions, pending a Congressional vote to approve or disapprove the deal. The Corker bill could undergo changes before it is voted out of committee in mid-April. But in its current form, it could scuttle the whole process by unnecessarily holding a vote before any deal is finalized. If Feinstein opposes the final Corker bill it could perhaps help staunch Dem defections just enough to prevent it from getting a veto-proof majority.

Meanwhile, Senator Chris Murphy — a rising star of sorts within the party — is bluntly warning fellow Democrats that if they support the Corker bill, they will “own responsibility for the failure of negotiations.” As of now, at least eight Senate Dems have signed on to it.

The movement from Feinstein and Murphy suggests that supporters of a deal have a chance of preventing Corker-Menendez from passing over a presidential veto. But if a deal is then reached, things get very murky. Republicans may hold some kind of post-deal vote to restrict the president’s authority to suspend sanctions and carry out our end of the bargain. The question then would become whether enough Democrats would support that to override a veto. If not, Obama would continue to insist he has the authority to temporarily lift the sanctions; Republicans would insist he doesn’t. The deal would presumably continue amid GOP objections, and things would then get extremely contentious.

When you strip away all the noise, that’s what the basic underlying dispute is about: Whether or not Obama has the authority to temporarily lift sanctions without Congress. And it may not be resolvable. No “sales pitch” from Obama will resolve it, either; it’s very hard to imagine this Congress voting to affirmatively give Obama that authority in the context of a deal. You can see an endgame where Republicans and Obama agree to some kind of legislation that doesn’t resolve that argument, but does provide a role for Congress in toughening up the mechanism that would reimpose sanctions if Iran breaks the deal. But that is the subject for a future post.


* OBAMA SIGNALS OPENNESS TO LIMITED CONGRESSIONAL ROLE ON IRAN: In that interview with the New York Times, Obama said that he is open to a Congressional vote on Iran, as long as it doesn’t restrict his authority to lift sanctions as part of a final deal:

“My hope is that we can find something that allows Congress to express itself but does not encroach on traditional presidential prerogatives and ensures that if in fact we get a good deal that we can go ahead and implement it.”

But this would require Republicans to accept a framework wherein they merely “express themselves” about a final deal, rather than voting on whether Obama should have the authority to implement it by lifting sanctions, which they are going to want to do. The real question is how may Democrats will side with them.

* CORKER REJECTS LIMITED ROLE FOR CONGRESS: And indeed, on Fox News Sunday, Senate Foreign Relations chairman Bob Corker rejected the suggestion of a non-binding vote on a final deal, and even said his legislation could very well override a presidential veto:

“There is strong bipartisan support for a binding vote by Congress…I talked to a number of Democrats over the weekend, and I think there are many more that are considering this.”

Yes, many more Democrats probably are considering it.

* HOW MANY DEMS SUPPORT CORKER-MENENDEZ? Roll Call puts the number of Democrats supporting the bill as high as a dozen, meaning 66 Senators may support it — one short of a veto-proof majority. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean all those Dems would also subsequently vote to override a veto, though.

* GOP SUPPORT FOR ISRAEL ACCOMPANIED BY SURGE IN DONATIONS: Don’t miss the New York Times’ report detailing that the ideological hardening of the GOP’s “pro-Israel” stances is partly the “product of a surge in donations” from a “small group” of wealthy, “hawkish” donors. Notable:

The shift has also meant the Republican Party today accepts little dissent on the topic of Israel, said Scott McConnell, a founding editor of The American Conservative… “Republicans interested in foreign policy used to understand that it was not in America’s national interest to ignore entirely Arab claims against Israel,” he said. “Now, there is a fanatical feeling of one-sidedness.”

It will be interesting to watch how the 2016 GOP hopefuls compete with one-another to win what looks like a new and emerging litmus test of one’s “true conservatism.”

 * A LOOMING PROBLEM FOR HILLARY ON SOCIAL SECURITY? The Wall Street Journal reports that the movement among liberal Democrats to expand Social Security, not cut it, is gaining real traction, and that this could put Hillary Clinton on the spot:

When Mrs. Clinton last weighed in on Social Security, she supported a bipartisan commission to tackle the program’s long-term financial imbalance. The widespread view was that such a commission would lead to a compromise in which Democrats support benefit cuts in return for Republican support for a tax increase, all to extend the life of the program.

My general sense is that Clinton will be reluctant to embrace expanding Social Security, but we’ll see. This is the sort of thing a real Democratic presidential primary could help hash out!

* DEMOCRATS NOT NAMED ‘HILLARY CLINTON’ HEAD TO IOWA: CNN reports that former Senator Jim Webb and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley will both campaign in Iowa this week, but each has a very different strategy. As CNN puts it: Webb is “a Southern Democrat vying to connect with the white working class of his party,” while O’Malley is “a progressive executive vying for the left of the party.”

As much as I’d like to see a real primary, it is probably too late. Clinton all but certainly has the vast majority of party actors in her corner, making it very unlikely that either Webb or O’Malley can gain any traction.

 * AND THE EPIC TROLLING EXERCISE OF THE DAY: This week, April 9th, will mark 150 years since the fall of the Confederacy. Brian Beutler argues that we should make its defeat, and the end of slavery, a national holiday, and call it “New Birth of Freedom Day.” This, he argues, is the real way to honor “American exceptionalism” — honoring our country’s continued progress towards the country’s founding ideals, as opposed to the fairy tale that all that promise has been already met.

Well, that would be one way of trolling the entire south!