If there was one member of Congress upon whom all eyes came to rest to see which way he would vote on the Nuclear Iran Deal, it was New York’s senior senator Chuck Schumer.
Schumer, a Democrat who all understand is in line for a leadership role in the Senate, was watched closely for many reasons: He is Jewish, he represents New York State, he is a senior senator, and being pro-Israel has always been a badge he proudly wore.
Still, many of those watching Schumer have been seeing him through jaundiced eyes. No matter which way he decided, he would greatly disappoint supporters who have enormous control over his political future. Would he risk angering the leadership of his party and the man at the top of his ticket? Or would he vote to support the Nuclear Iran agreement and anger many of his constituents?
Those with practiced eyes concluded that Schumer would split his decision, first voting against the agreement in the initial round, but then either not voting to override the veto if the vote was close, or voting to override, but only if the count was such that the veto could not be overridden, not matter how he voted.
But the reasoning Schumer provided in his statement announcing his decision may lock him into voting for the same outcome, both times.
Schumer broke the agreement down into three different categories: the restrictions on Iran in the first ten years of the agreement; the restrictions on Iran after ten years; and the non-nuclear components and consequences of the deal. As his guide for which way to vote, he asked himself whether we are better off with this agreement or better off without it.
The senator explained that he sees various weaknesses during the ten year lifespan of the agreement, such as insufficient inspections access, including the need to obtain a majority of the other parties to agree to an inspection, and a cumbersome snapback mechanism. Schumer said that while there were problems with this portion of the agreement, it was possible to decide either way.
During the period following the sunset clause of the agreement, however, Iran would be stronger financially and “better able to advance a robust nuclear program.” Even more importantly, at the end of the agreement and with Iran as a threshold nuclear state, it would also enjoy the blessing of the world community. In other words, its leap into nuclear weapons capability would be sanctioned by the leadership of the world’s leading nations.
Schumer concluded that we would definitely be better off without the deal than with it, given the scenario at the conclusion of the JCPOA.
Finally, the non-nuclear aspects of the deal gave Schumer the most pause. In his opinion, the infusion of billions of dollars into Iran in the wake of sanctions relief could lead to catastrophic consequences. Unless one believes that Iran will moderate and cease its support for terror across the region, the lack of restrictions on how the money will be used was a fatal flaw.
if one feels that Iranian leaders will not moderate and their unstated but very real goal is to get relief from the onerous sanctions, while still retaining their nuclear ambitions and their ability to increase belligerent activities in the Middle East and elsewhere, then one should conclude that it would be better not to approve this agreement.
Schumer does not believe that Iran is about to moderate or that it will become more moderate during the course of the agreement.
Therefore, I will vote to disapprove the agreement, not because I believe war is a viable or desirable option, nor to challenge the path of diplomacy. It is because I believe Iran will not change, and under this agreement it will be able to achieve its dual goals of eliminating sanctions while ultimately retaining its nuclear and non-nuclear power. Better to keep U.S. sanctions in place, strengthen them, enforce secondary sanctions on other nations, and pursue the hard-trodden path of diplomacy once more, difficult as it may be.
Schumer’s decision became public just hours after the junior senator from New York, Kirsten E. Gillibrand, also a Democrat, announced that she will support the agreement.
New York Congressman Eliot Engel (NY-D-16) also announced on Thursday evening that he would oppose the JCPOA. The reasons he gave were similar to Senator Schumer’s: the limitations on inspections capability, the influx of massive amounts of money in the wake of sanctions relief and the lifting of bans on intercontinental ballistic missiles and advanced conventional weapons.
Engel is the senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.