Last night, while Donald Trump spewed bile at the the GOP debate moderators, and Chris Christie and Rand Paul shouted about the Fourth Amendment, the news leaked that Chuck Schumer was coming out against the Iran deal. The left exploded, and predictably, press accounts are overplaying the significance of this moment. The New York Times blared that the news is “shaking” the Democratic “firewall.”
Here’s the real story: Schumer’s opposition is not likely to matter that much to the outcome either way. Does that mean the deal will certainly go forward? No. Rather, the point is, if enough Senate Democrats are inclined to support the deal to prevent an override of President Obama’s veto of a motion disapproving the deal — which isn’t assured, but still seems likely — then Schumer’s opposition is unlikely to change that.
The widely touted notion that Schumer’s opposition paves the way for more Dems to oppose the deal sounds superficially persuasive, but should be subjected to scrutiny. Each Senator is in his or her own political situation, and many do not have the pressures on them to oppose the deal that Schumer did. What’s more, Schumer opposing the deal does not, in and of itself, necessarily make it easier for other Democrats to buck the president.
And Schumer is explicitly signaling that he will not stand in the way of other Dem Senators if they want to support the deal. This is the key bit from his statement:
“There are some who believe that I can force my colleagues to vote my way. While I will certainly share my view and try to persuade them that the vote to disapprove is the right one, in my experience with matters of conscience and great consequence like this, each member ultimately comes to their own conclusion.”
Schumer’s promise to try to persuade others to vote with him is designed to mollify those who want him to help secure a veto override. But he’s plainly signaling to other Senators that they should not feel obliged to follow his lead. One longtime Schumer supporter tells me: “This is not an issue you arm-twist on. Explain your position, yes. Pressure, no.”
A spokesman for Schumer confirms to me that after voting Yes on a motion to disapprove, if Obama vetoes it, Schumer would vote to override the veto. But here again the question is, will Schumer make a serious effort to rally other Dems to vote with him on the override?
It seems unlikely. Does the incoming Senate Democratic leader really want to take the blame for actively helping Republicans sink Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement, one that likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has already leaned into supporting? Doubtful. By voting No — while doing little to prevent the deal from going forward — Schumer can vote his conscience while not seriously undermining his position as Democratic leader.
And helping sink the deal would undermine Schumer’s position as leader by further enraging the left. For a little taste of the outcry that would unfold, see the Tweets from former White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer:
Senator Schumer siding with the GOP against Obama, Clinton, and most Democrats will make it hard for him to lead the Dems in ’16…He may keep the job, but he will be less effective, less influential and the party will be less successful.
My best guess: enough Dems will oppose the deal to get past the 60 needed to break the filibuster of the disapproval motion, but not enough will oppose it to get to the 67 needed to override Obama’s veto. And remember, whatever happens in the Senate, there’s another potential firewall in the House, which could fail to override and the deal would go forward.
Here’s the Senate math as of today. Earlier this week, proponents got a big boost when Senators Tim Kaine, Angus King, and Kirsten Gillibrand came out for the deal. Right now I count 18 Senators as genuinely possible votes against it: Heitkamp, Blumenthal, Donnelly, Bennet, Menendez, Reid, Coons, Cardin, Manchin, Booker, Carper, Peters, Casey, Wyden, Stabenow, Merkley, Mikulski and Murray.
Opponents need 13 Dems to side with them to override the veto. With Schumer, they now need 12. That means opponents need 12 of the 18 remaining Dems to side with them. Carper is now leaning towards the deal. So is Joe Manchin. That pool of 18 could very well be smaller in reality. So getting 12 may be a tall order.
To be clear, I am absolutely not saying it is impossible for opponents to sink the deal. Perhaps opponents will succeed in fomenting a tremendous public backlash in August. Or perhaps new information — or a new international event — will shift the dynamic. Or perhaps individual Senators will turn against the deal on the merits, or for their own political reasons.
But Schumer wouldn’t be a major factor in making any — or all — of that happen. Schumer’s opposition doesn’t change the fact that the math is still tough (though hardly impossible) for the deal’s opponents.
UPDATE: A pro-deal source suggests that we should add four other Senate Dems to the list of those who might oppose the deal: Stabenow, Merkley, Mikulski and Murray. That makes a total of 18. Foes need 12 of those. I’ve updated the above to take stock of that. Still, the broader point stands: Foes need to win over a huge chunk of the undecided Dems, and it’s not clear how important Schumer will be to the outcome in the end.
* TRUMP COULD RUN AS AN INDEPENDENT: The big moment from last night’s debate was Trump’s refusal to rule out a third party run. As Karen Tumulty and Philip Rucker point out, this came in response to a question that explicitly noted this would doom the GOP:
It was pointed out that, if he follows through on his threat to run as an independent, Trump could doom the Republican Party’s chances of victory in 2016. “If I’m the nominee, I will pledge I will not run as an independent,” Trump said, but added that he has “a lot of leverage.”
Trump has probably calculated that sending the GOP elites into conniptions only helps burnish his “disruptor of conventional politics” schtick.
* TRUMP MAY HAVE STRENGTHENED HIS POSITION: Bloomberg’s Joshua Green looks at the ways Donald Trump steamrolled the debate moderators who tried to trip him up, and concludes:
My guess is that Trump didn’t hurt himself and might even emerge stronger than before. There’s an unspoken accord between Trump and his supporters that Thursday’s debate can only have intensified. Trump rants and raves in language that upsets and scandalizes the establishment. In return, his fans annoy the elite know-it-alls by rallying to him anyway. Together, they raise a big middle finger to everyone. That’s the art of the deal.
Yes, Trump pisses a lot of people off. Exactly the quality you want in a president.
* JOHN KASICH IS THE BIG SURPRISE OF THE EVENING: At the debate, Ohio governor John Kasich did a good job explaining his heretical expansion of Medicaid and in talking about gay marriage. Josh Kraushaar says he’s cutting into Jeb Bush’s turf:
If there’s room for an establishment alternative, Kasich is well-positioned to capitalize. The Ohio governor’s deliberate line of being the “son of a mailman” offers a stark contrast to Bush’s elite upbringing. And if style matters as much as substance to Republicans — something that Donald Trump’s surge has demonstrated — Kasich’s ability to connect with voters emotionally trumps Bush’s ability to do the same.
Agreed. Kasich is someone to watch.
* MISSING AT LAST NIGHT’S DEBATE: THE ECONOMY: Jim Tankersley makes a key point: There was almost discussion of the economy and jobs:
In two hours of prime-time debating in Cleveland, the word “economy” came up 10 times. “Jobs” came up 20 times. Candidates said the words “middle class” exactly twice – and one of those was when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was talking about his childhood….”If you’re one of the 65 percent of Americans who think the U.S. is on the wrong track,” said James Pethokoukis, a conservative writer for the American Enterprise Institute who has pushed Republican candidates to address worker angst, “what have these debates offered?”
Of course, what would they have offered if the economy had been discussed? More about how the solution to stagnating wages and the huge slice of the recovery’s gains going to the top is to “get government out of the way”?
* A DECENT JOBS REPORT: The jobs report for July is in:
Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 215,000 in July, and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 5.3 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today.
Also, the last two months were revised upwards to add another 14,000 jobs.
* LEFT RIPS INTO SCHUMER: A taste of what’s to come if Schumer actively helps Republicans override Obama’s veto:
“Our country doesn’t need another Joe Lieberman in the Senate, and it certainly doesn’t need him as Democratic leader,” MoveOn political action executive director Ilya Sheyman said in a statement about Schumer…MoveOn is urging its members to withhold campaign contributions to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Sheyman said. Within 72 hours after Schumer’s Thursday evening announcement, the liberal group is hoping to withhold $10 million in campaign contributions.
Another Joe Lieberman! Them’s fighting words!
* INTRIGUE SURROUNDS WHITE HOUSE, SCHUMER, IRAN DEAL: Last night the Huffington Post first broke the news of Schumer’s opposition to the Iran deal. Politico adds this from a source familiar with backstage maneuvering:
The New York senator had told the White House that he had decided to reject the nuclear agreement and would announce it on Friday. But the source accused the White House of leaking Schumer’s decision to the Huffington Post, forcing the senator to announce his decision Thursday night.
If true, that resulted in the Schumer news getting drowned out by Trump’s bombast.