From television ads in West Palm Beach to Portland, a rally in Times Square, speaking engagements at Manhattan synagogues, and a concerted effort to flood lawmakers’ town hall meetings, lobbying groups opposing the Iran deal are firing on all cylinders in a race to convince key Democratic lawmakers to reject the president’s nuclear deal with Iran.
They have 59 days and counting — the 60-day congressional review period began Monday.
One of the most aggressive opponents of the deal is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and a new nonprofit group it is supporting, Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran. AIPAC spent a record $1.7 million on lobbying so far this year to push for legislation that gave Congress the ability to review — and potentially vote down — the pact.
Congress can vote to reject the agreement, but it would take a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate to override a presidential veto of any attempt to derail the deal. It is widely acknowledged that Democrats will likely be the deciding factor on the issue because most Republicans already oppose the agreement.
Groups lobbying against the deal are zeroing in on Democrats like New York Sen. Charles Schumer, as well as Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.). They’re also focused on Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), Juan Vargas (D-Calif.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.).
“Democrats should be especially concerned about this Iran deal because it’s going to fuel a nuclear arms race and because Iran is a country that routinely violates human rights, including persecuting gay people,” said Patrick Dorton, a Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran spokesman. Dorton previously worked for AIPAC.
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AIPAC is holding a Washington fly-in July 28 and 29, where it expects several hundred people to meet with lawmakers. Beyond that, AIPAC declined to elaborate on specific advocacy efforts other than to say it is “engaged in a major educational and lobbying effort against the deal, and for a better deal” that includes supporting the new group, Citizens.
Citizens, though, is taking a more vocal stance. The 501(c)4, which is financially supported by AIPAC and other groups and individuals, is spending between $20 million and $40 million on the campaign, including TV ads in 35 states, many of them in districts heavily populated by Jewish Americans, or represented by Jewish-American lawmakers who are seen as key deciders on the issue.
The ads were slated to run late last week in Las Vegas, Denver, Portland, Houston, Phoenix and Seattle, and started rolling out this week in West Palm Beach and Tampa, according to Federal Communications Commission documents analyzed by the open-government group Sunlight Foundation.
Citizens doesn’t have to disclose its donors because of its nonprofit status. But its advisory board includes a heavy-hitting lineup of former Democratic senators: Evan Bayh (Ind.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Mary Landrieu (La.), and Joe Lieberman (Conn.). Former Nevada Rep. Shelley Berkley also serves on the board.
The Republican Jewish Coalition, an advocacy group opposing the deal, has compiled a long list of 72 lawmakers they see as on the fence. Only one of them, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), is a Republican.
“We’re pretty confident in the position of most of the Republicans,” said Mark McNulty, a coalition spokesman. “We’re just trying to make sure we are able to influence enough Democrats.”
McNulty declined to specify how much the group plans to spend on the efforts. The group is co-sponsoring a rally scheduled for Wednesday evening in Times Square, called “Stop Iran Now.” And between now and the end of July, as lawmakers start announcing their town hall meetings during the August recess, the group is urging its 40,000 members to attend the meetings and pressure their representatives to oppose the deal.
“I think in today’s politics, what’s more important to these guys than sticking with your president is getting re-elected,” McNulty said. “So a lot of the pressure we’re going to be putting on these guys is through our members, who are their constituents.”
The Israel Project, a nonprofit led by former AIPAC staffer Josh Block, wants to see Congress ask the Obama administration “to come back with a better version of the deal,” Block said.
The group created a website, NoBombforIran.com, which calls the agreement “The most dangerous deal in history” and allows visitors to sign a petition and spread the word on Twitter and Facebook. A better deal, the group says, would include tougher verification standards and no immediate sanctions relief, among other things.
Block is slated to speak at Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan on Tuesday evening about what he calls the deal’s flaws. Group members are meeting with editorial boards, conducting polls, and posting a steady stream of content on Facebook and Twitter quoting lawmakers and policy experts who express criticism or skepticism about the deal.