Joe Biden Promotes Iran Deal to Jews, and an Undecided Democrat in Florida


Joe Biden Promotes Iran Deal to Jews, and an Undecided Democrat in Florida

By Gardiner Harris

DAVIE, Fla. — Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. promised to make one last point in his talk Thursday morning about the Iran nuclear agreement at a Jewish community center here.

And then he promised one more final point. And then another. And another.

The Obama administration secured enough votes in Congress on Wednesday to ensure that a deal to contain Iran’s nuclear program moves forward. But the administration has promised to continue its fervent lobbying until the vote is actually taken, and there was no better proof of the administration’s persistence than Mr. Biden’s gathering with 32 prominent Jews here.

The remarks by Mr. Biden, who is said to be considering a third run for president, were directed at the men and women sitting around a horseshoe table, but political analysts say the real point of his talk was to win over one person there in particular, Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat who is also the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.

Traditionally, the head of the president’s party committee can be counted on to support and fight for every major White House priority, and there is no higher foreign policy priority for Mr. Obama than the Iran nuclear agreement.

But Ms. Wasserman Schultz has said she remains undecided. Her district is heavily Jewish, and many of her most prominent supporters are strongly against the deal. One protester outside her office recently screamed that “Wasserman Schultz should go to the ovens” because, he suggested, she would support the deal.

Before Mr. Biden spoke, Ms. Wasserman Schultz told the invitation­only gathering, “I am never afraid to stand alone, when necessary, to stand on principle.”

“This is a decision not only to be made based on your head,” she said after saying that she had closely studied every detail of the deal, “but one that will be made based on my Jewish heart.”

Ira M. Sheskin, an expert in Jewish American demography at the University of Miami, said that in polls, most Jews in the United States actually supported the nuclear deal, but those who were opposed were adamant about their opposition.

“The people who are for it are just barely for it, and the people who are against it are vehemently against it,” Professor Sheskin said. “Debbie’s dilemma is that this is one of those issues that no matter what she decides, people will be upset with her.”

Political analysts said that Mr. Biden’s visit would give Ms. Wasserman Schultz some help with her constituents if she decided to support the deal. “The fact that she’s got the vice president going into her district, she wants some political bucking up,” said James Carville, a Democratic strategist. “She asked for it, and she got it.”

In brief remarks, Ms. Wasserman Schultz introduced Mr. Biden as a “mensch” and “one of us.”

“With just about anything but blood, I think the vice president has earned the moniker,” she said.

Mr. Biden then told the gathering that he had spent his entire political life standing up for the state of Israel. But he also said he had decades of experience negotiating arms control agreements, and that he had little patience for those who argued that the United States should never negotiate with its adversaries.

Mr. Biden spoke about several details of the agreement and addressed head­on many of the arguments posed by the deal’s critics, including those aired in TV ads.

There is “one thing I want to set straight because I’ve seen the ads,” Mr. Biden said. “That is the idea that we can’t inspect military facilities — it’s simply not true. Let me get this straight. Look at me. As one person once said, ‘Read my lips.’ Not true,” he said to laughter. “We can, with cause, inspect any place in Iran if we believe there is illegal activity taking place.”

Mr. Biden’s final, final, final point in his speech was that he had traveled 992,894 miles as vice president and met “virtually every major leader in the world.”

“As I make my case on what U.S. policy should be, you know the one question I get: ‘Can you do it? Your government is dysfunctional. Can you deliver?’ ” Mr. Biden said. “Just imagine what would happen to our influence, guys, when the president cannot deliver on an agreement that the world — this is not a bilateral agreement — that the world thinks is important.”

Citing efforts to punish Russia for its annexation of Crimea and support of separatists in eastern Ukraine, to get the Europeans to continue their support for NATO, and to reassure the Japanese and South Koreans about China’s ambitions in the South China Sea, Mr. Biden said it was vital for the world to  be able to take the American president at his word.

“Doesn’t mean we should be for a bad agreement,” Mr. Biden said, “but it is, it is, it is implicated in whether or not the United States of America’s Congress puts us in a position to make sure this deal goes into effect. Amen.”

When the question and answer period began, reporters were ushered out of the room.