Top Republicans vowed on Wednesday to do their utmost to scrap President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran as the biggest pro-Israel lobby geared up for an all-out campaign next week to pressure wary lawmakers into rejecting the agreement.
A bigger push against last week’s historic accord in Vienna was being met with a counter-offensive by senior Obama administration officials, who briefed groups of lawmakers in closed-door sessions on Wednesday and will defend the deal in a congressional hearing on Thursday.
As Congress opened a 60-day review of the deal, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the top congressional Republican, told reporters: “Because a bad deal threatens the security of the American people, we’re going to do everything possible to stop it.”
The most influential pro-Israel group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), planned to deploy hundreds of lobbyists on Capitol Hill next Wednesday and Thursday to try to convince lawmakers, especially wavering or undecided Democrats, to vote against the deal, according to an official in the pro-Israel camp.
AIPAC will also run a national campaign of television commercials already under way and sponsored by allied groups such as Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, U.S. pro-Israel sources said. The groups are expected to spend upwards of $20 million, one of the sources said.
Congress has until Sept. 17 to decide whether to approve or reject the agreement between Iran and world powers to rein in Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.
Republicans control majorities in both houses of Congress, and many have already come out strongly against the pact, which they say will empower Iran and threaten U.S. ally Israel.
But if Congress passes a resolution disapproving of the deal, dozens of Democrats would have to vote with them to override the Democratic president’s threatened veto, something that would be hard for the Republicans to achieve.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democrats’ leader in the House, has come out strongly in favor of it. Among the senior Democrats who pro-Israel lobbyists hope to win over is New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, a strong advocate for Israel’s security who has yet to state his position on the deal.
“It’s a steep climb but not an impossible climb,” the pro-Israel group official said of the coming campaign.
Hardline opponents of the deal in the pro-Israel camp believe wavering lawmakers can be swayed by detailed arguments about what they see as loopholes, especially for international inspections.
In addition, pressure from AIPAC, which boasts 100,000 members and whose election endorsement is coveted by many lawmakers, could create nervousness among members of Congress up for re-election.
At the same time, J Street, a smaller liberal pro-Israel group, is urging supporters to lobby their lawmakers to support the Iran deal.
Secretary of State John Kerry Kerry told reporters as he walked into a close-door meeting with lawmakers that the deal “will make the region, our friends and allies, safer. It will make the world safer in the absence of any viable alternative.”
Kerry, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz are due to testify on Thursday to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.—Reuters
This story "Republicans and AIPAC Step Up Campaign Against Iran Deal" was written by Matt Spetalnick and Patricia Zengerle.