Biden Pitches Democrats on Iran Deal

The vice president got praise from House Democrats, but it’s unclear whether he moved any votes.

National Journal
July 15, 2015, 7:56 a.m.

Vice Pres­id­ent Joe Biden got a hearty round of ap­plause and high marks for his sales pitch on Wed­nes­day to House Demo­crats on the White House’s nuc­le­ar deal with Ir­an. But it’s not clear wheth­er he ac­tu­ally got any votes.

The morn­ing after the his­tor­ic agree­ment was an­nounced, mem­bers said the ad­min­is­tra­tion still has its work cut out as it seeks to line up con­gres­sion­al sup­port.

“I’m here to an­swer ques­tions and ex­plain what the deal is,” Biden said as he walked in­to the meet­ing. “I’m con­fid­ent they’ll like it when they un­der­stand it.”

Biden’s ap­pear­ance was part of a mul­ti­fa­ceted Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion lob­by­ing ef­fort. Sen. Joe Manchin, a key po­ten­tial swing vote, said he would be go­ing to the White House Wed­nes­day for a brief­ing on the agree­ment.

Biden’s ap­peal, which mem­bers said was mostly policy-fo­cused, didn’t ap­pear to have im­me­di­ately swayed many law­makers in­to the White House’s camp. “The vice pres­id­ent made as con­vin­cing an ar­gu­ment as he can make, but I think there’s still a lot of ques­tions to be answered,” said Rep. Steve Is­rael. “I’ve been skep­tic­al from the be­gin­ning of this. I’m still skep­tic­al. “¦ He did as good a job as he could do un­der that cir­cum­stances.”

Demo­crats raised con­cerns ran­ging from in­spec­tions to sanc­tions to mil­it­ary op­tions, and they said Biden answered each in de­tail. Biden told the group he was ini­tially the deal’s “chief skep­tic,” say­ing he had been swayed by the mer­its of the agree­ment. But if the White House ex­pec­ted an early show of sup­port for the deal, Demo­crats are mostly re­serving judg­ment as they head in­to a 60-day re­view peri­od.

“I’m not con­vinced un­til I fin­ish read­ing the agree­ment and about a mil­lion oth­er things,” said Rep. Jer­rold Nadler. “I’m study­ing it.”

Rep. Brad Sher­man noted the com­plex­ity of the is­sue and the vari­ous ques­tions with which mem­bers will have to grapple. “A lot of mem­bers are go­ing to take a lot of time,” he said.

Biden, Is­rael said, told mem­bers that the deal does not pre­clude the U.S. from us­ing mil­it­ary op­tions to deal with Ir­a­ni­an threats. He also faced ques­tions about “snap­back” sanc­tions—eco­nom­ic pen­al­ties lif­ted as part of the deal, but which would be re­stored if Ir­an vi­ol­ates the agree­ment.

“The ques­tions were very tech­nic­al,” Is­rael said. Still, he ad­ded, the White House may need more than Biden’s ex­plan­a­tions to get mem­bers on board. “The pres­id­ent be­lieves that he has to use all the tools in his tool­box, in­clud­ing his own per­son­al pres­ence, to make the case,” Is­rael said. “This is go­ing to be the most im­port­ant for­eign policy is­sue that we vote on, which means that the White House should go full-throttle.”

Mem­bers said the Biden vis­it was no such “full-throttle” pitch. “I wouldn’t call it a hard sell,” Nadler said. “He ex­plained the tech­nic­al de­tails of the deal. He ex­plained why it’s the best of the al­tern­at­ives.”

And not every­one was con­vinced Obama needs to come to Cap­it­ol Hill to make the case him­self. “It’s al­ways won­der­ful, but I don’t know if it’s ne­ces­sary,” said Sher­man.

What is clear is that the deal’s fu­ture de­pends on the Demo­crats in Con­gress, as most Re­pub­lic­ans have been quick to an­nounce their op­pos­i­tion. “It’s im­pli­cit that the fate of the deal lies with either Sen­ate or House Demo­crats, or both,” Nadler said.

Is­rael noted that the White House will need to “make sure that they have 145 mem­bers of the House that will sus­tain a veto and 34-35 mem­bers of the Sen­ate that will sus­tain a veto.” It’s un­clear if that sup­port is there yet. “I don’t think the vice pres­id­ent came in be­liev­ing that this was a slam dunk either way,” he said.

This art­icle has been up­dated.

Rachel Roubein contributed to this article.
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