Washington - Jewish Democrats are ratcheting up criticism against Republican candidate John McCain by attempting to focus attention on a 2005 vote in which McCain opposed toughening restrictions on business ties with Iran.
In a June 26 press conference on Capitol Hill, organized by the National Jewish Democratic Council, Democratic lawmakers praised the Democratic nominee, Senator Barack Obama, and attacked the presumptive Republican nominee for what they characterized as his refusal to close loopholes that allow firms like Halliburton to continue doing business with the regime in Tehran.
“Obama has already shown that he will fight against Iran, while McCain tries to give the impression that he is tough on Iran,” said Senator Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat from New Jersey, “but when it comes to facing Halliburton and big oil industry, he does not stand up.”
The McCain campaign has argued that McCain did vote in favor of a similar amendment proposed by Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine. The Collins amendment was adopted by both parties as an acceptable compromise and was approved in a 97-0 vote.
Lautenberg proposed the 2005 amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill, with a declared aim “to stop corporations from financing terrorism.”
The amendment sought to repair what Democratic lawmakers saw as the existing legislation’s loophole, which allowed American firms and individuals to bypass sanctions against Iran by conducting their business through offshore subsidiaries.
When the amendment came to the Senate floor, it was voted down with a 51-47 count, roughly split along party lines. McCain and most other Republican senators voted against the amendment, while almost all Democrats, including Obama and Hillary Clinton, voted to approve it.
According to press reports, Halliburton, which was headed in the past by Vice President Dick Cheney, was among the American firms that benefited from the arrangement.
Democratic sources said they saw importance in raising the issue, since McCain claimed that his Democratic rival is soft on the matter of Iran and does not support tough measures against the regime.
The attendees of the press conference were Senators Lautenberg and Ben Cardin, and Reps. Russ Carnahan, Sander Levin, Steve Rothman, Jan Schakowsky and Brad Sherman.
Nathan Guttman staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Ha’aretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Contact Nathan at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @nathanguttman