WASHINGTON — President Obama all but clinched victory for his Iran nuclear deal on Tuesday, as two Democratic senators threw crucial support behind the landmark accord.
The announcements by the senators, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Chris Coons of Delaware, came a week before the Senate was to formally debate a Republican resolution disapproving the agreement between Iran and six world powers.
Mr. Obama would veto any such resolution, and with further announcements of support for the accord expected as soon as Wednesday, any move to override him would almost certainly fail.
Mr. Coons’s decision in particular is likely to have resonance with the few remaining undecided Democrats. As an outspoken member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he expressed grave concerns about the deal before deciding any alternative would be far worse.
Despite the continuing rancor on Capitol Hill, there was also growing recognition, even among some accord opponents, that the other nations — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, and especially Iran — would be unwilling to renegotiate the agreement even if Congress formally rejected it.
The pledges of support by Mr. Casey and Mr. Coons meant the White House was just one vote short of the 34 needed to prevent a disapproval resolution from becoming law. Supporters of the agreement are now hoping to secure 41 votes to filibuster the resolution, ensuring the accord can be put into effect without the drama of a presidential veto negating the will of Congress.
In most cases, however, the support has been far less than enthusiastic as lawmakers have confronted one of the most deeply divisive policy debates of modern times, with the security of Israel and the stability of the Middle East potentially at stake.
Mr. Casey, who announced his decision in a 17-page memo that included a page and a half of footnotes, said in an interview that he still had many deep reservations, especially doubts that Iran would keep up its end of the bargain. But he said he ultimately concluded that it was in the national security interests of the United States to support the agreement.
Interactive Feature | The Iran Deal in 200 Words A short overview of important highlights from the Iran nuclear deal.
“This agreement will substantially constrain the Iranian nuclear program for its duration, and compared with all realistic alternatives, it is the best option available to us at this time,” he wrote.
Mr. Casey said that after years of leading other countries in sanctioning Iran over its nuclear program, the United States simply could not walk away from the deal, especially when it was clear that the other five powers were prepared to move forward in any event.
“Every indication I got was that it wasn’t going to work to get them back to the table,” Mr. Casey said.
“They made it very clear that maintaining sanctions and renegotiating wasn’t going to work, and part of that was just the practical reality.”
He added, “To have led that effort and then to just say, ‘We’re going to walk away,’ it just doesn’t make sense.”
Mr. Coons said in a speech at the University of Delaware on Tuesday that just that morning he had received personal, written assurances from Mr. Obama on a range of concerns before finally deciding to endorse the deal.
In the House, Representative Adam Smith of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee and an important voice in his party, also came out in favor of the deal on Tuesday. And Representative Hakeem Jeffries, Democrat of New York, came out in support of the accord despite his past reliance on pro-Israel groups for his political rise.
The unease expressed by supporters — including concerns about the possibility that easing sanctions would end up funneling billions of dollars to terrorist groups in the Middle East — underscored the political agony that the nuclear deal has created for lawmakers, particularly Mr. Obama’s fellow Democrats.
For the president, however, it mattered little how many footnotes, asterisks or other caveats come with the pledges of support.
And with only two Senate Democrats — Chuck Schumer of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey — publicly opposed so far, it seemed the resolution of disapproval could fall well short of the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster.
Mr. Casey and Mr. Coons, like many of their colleagues, sought to demonstrate just how much care and concern they had taken in reaching a decision about the Iran deal.
Mr. Coons, in his speech, said that he had attended more than a dozen hearings and classified briefings and had even “read and reread the dense text of the agreement itself.”
In many cases, the lawmakers stressed their concerns for the security of Israel.
The support from Mr. Coons may prove to be especially important. “Frankly, this is not the agreement I had hoped for,” he said, echoing doubts he has expressed for weeks. He added that he was troubled by “different interpretations of key terms” in the agreement.
“I remain deeply concerned about our ability to hold Iran to the terms of this deal as we understand them,” Mr. Coons said, pointing to Iran’s “past cheating” on previous agreements, its support of terrorist groups and its jailing of a reporter for The Washington Post.
All along, opponents of the accord have faced steep obstacles.
To start, they need 60 votes in the Senate to overcome a filibuster and get a vote on the resolution of disapproval. And even if the opponents succeeded in passing the resolution, Mr. Obama would veto it. Then, opponents would have to secure the votes of two-thirds of the lawmakers in both chambers to override the veto.
In the Senate, that meant the White House needed 34 votes to be assured of sustaining a veto — a number that was clearly in reach.
Mr. Casey said he believed that there were enough Democratic votes to sustain a veto, and that the White House had succeeded in making the case that the nuclear deal was worthy of support on the merits.
“I think they made a credible case that we face this threat in the near term, and you have got to have a strategy against it,” he said. “You can’t just have tough talk or statements about trying to reimpose sanctions.”
House Democrats have also orchestrated a steady flow of statements of support, and on Tuesday the president received a surprise.
The decision by Mr. Jeffries, a Brooklyn Democrat known for his close ties with pro-Israel advocacy groups, showed just how far the political winds have shifted in Mr. Obama’s favor.
Mr. Jeffries has been watched closely as an indicator of the crosswinds facing Democrats around the Iran vote: His liberal district supported Mr. Obama enthusiastically, but Mr. Jeffries has also received strenuous support from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and like-minded groups since his first campaign for Congress in 2012. Those groups have spent millions of dollars this summer on efforts to kill the nuclear accord.
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