PBS NEW SHOUR
Winning new Democratic support, Iran deal passage is all over but the shouting
GWEN IFILL: Members of Congress returned from their summer recess today, and immediately indicated they would hand the White House a key victory on the Iran nuclear deal.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Let’s give it up for the national champion Duke Blue Devils.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
LISA DESJARDINS: As President Obama hosted Duke University’s basketball champions, his White House was celebrating its own win.
JOSH EARNEST, White House Press Secretary: We are pleased, gratified that we have been able to build sufficient support in the United States Congress.
LISA DESJARDINS: This morning, three of the four remaining Senate Democratic holdouts announced they will back the nuclear deal. They were Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Gary Peters of Michigan and Ron Wyden of Oregon. That gave Minority Leader Harry Reid and other supporters at least 41 votes, enough to block majority Republicans from disapproving the deal.
SEN. HARRY REID, Senate Minority Leader: Today, I am gratified to say to my fellow Americans, our negotiating partners, and our allies all around the world, this agreement will stand.
LISA DESJARDINS: It also means the president will not have to use his veto power to uphold the deal. But even with the outcome looking certain, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell again took aim at what the administration negotiated.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, Senate Majority Leader: We know that the president’s deal will not end its nuclear program, but would instead leave Iran with a threshold nuclear capability recognized as legitimate by the international community, quite the opposite of the original goal.
LISA DESJARDINS: And Maine’s Susan Collins made it unanimous: All 54 Republicans in the Senate now officially oppose the deal.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), Maine: I have long believed that a verifiable diplomatic agreement with Iran would be a major achievement. Regrettably, that doesn’t describe the agreement that the administration negotiated. The agreement is fundamentally flawed.
LISA DESJARDINS: But in the Senate vote count, the president’s viewpoint is prevailing. So, while House Republicans may reject the Iran deal this week, that’s look like it’s as far as the issue will go.
GWEN IFILL: And political director Lisa Desjardins joins me now from Capitol Hill.
Just in the last few moments, Lisa, we have discovered that number went from 41 to 42, with the additional yea or nay vote, depending on how you add this up, of Senator Maria Cantwell from Washington State. What’s the significance of this number of 41 or 42 as it is tonight?
LISA DESJARDINS: Well, technically, Gwen, our viewers probably caught on that it doesn’t change the endgame. The White House had enough votes to support this deal, to keep it alive last week, but it is very significant, because it says something about the strength of this deal and the strength of this president.
The strength of this deal is important because international watchers and American allies are wondering, how long will this deal last? Will this deal last through, say, another president? Forty-one votes shows it has — or 42 in this case — has some more strength than it did last week.
And also about the strength of this president, President Obama won these votes one by one by convincing senators. Many of these Democrats had huge doubts. And, frankly, one source told me today that they don’t trust the president here. It’s not a question of trust. It’s a question of them verifying what they see in this deal.
And 41 percent, Gwen, interestingly, that’s around the approval rating of this president, and that’s about what he got here. It’s a sign of how much strength he has in the Senate or not.
GWEN IFILL: Lisa, you spent the day reporting the reasons behind all of this on Capitol Hill, why the president got this victory and who flipped in the end. What can you tell us?
LISA DESJARDINS: Well, one of the more interesting conversations I had was with the staff of Senator Ron Wyden. He’s a important senator up here, head of the Senate Finance Committee.
He didn’t decide until this weekend. And his staff told me one of the key indications for him that he was going to go yes was, he got a letter from the White House to him — I have a copy of it right here — in which the White House gave him an assurance that the White House would stand by snapping back sanctions, reimposing sanctions as soon as there is any sign of cheating by Iran.
We heard that before, but, Gwen, what was interesting in this letter, they said not only the U.S., but European allies will also reimpose sanctions the minute there’s any cheating that happens.
Now, you can say this isn’t the word of law. This is just a letter to a senator. But that just shows what these senators have gone through. They want it in writing from the White House what’s being guaranteed and what’s not.
The other theme, Gwen, you see through all these senators who have decided in the last day, none of them love this deal. In fact, most of them don’t like it, but they have said, unfortunately, they don’t see any viable alternative right now. They think Iran will proceed without restrictions if the U.S. doesn’t do something.
GWEN IFILL: Lisa, we spent a lot of time talking about the Senate, but this also has to be approved or not disapproved in the House as well. Over the weekend, we got what seemed to be a pretty significant expression of support from Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who is the head of the Democratic National Committee, but is also a leading Jewish member of Congress who has been speaking with — been dealing with the Israeli pushback against this deal.
LISA DESJARDINS: Right.
Gwen, I had a good phone conversation with Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz earlier today. And she really conveyed how much this was a difficult decision for her.
Here’s how she got to yes. She said she met with her constituents, in particular rabbis in her district. It’s between Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Not just her, Gwen, but, interestingly enough, she brought down Vice President Joe Biden. This is when she says she was undecided. He answered questions for her and for her constituents.
She said most of them don’t like the deal. She listened. And then, Gwen, I think this is what turned it for a lot of members of Congress. Wasserman Schultz went to the White House some 20 different times, sat in the Situation Room, sat one on one with intelligence officials, sat down with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.
One by one, I think the White House won over these votes as members asked questions and got details about this deal. She, like many others, put out a five-, six-page response over the weekend in terms of why she came to her decision. But I think it was one by one over hundreds of questions that they asked the White House.
GWEN IFILL: Now, as you know as well as anyone, just because the president has these votes doesn’t mean that he — that all the opposition goes away. And we’re going to see more rallies on that — to that point tomorrow on Capitol Hill, anti-Iran deal rallies.
So, what happens next? What is the next shoe that has to drop? We have a deadline next week, right?
LISA DESJARDINS: That’s right.
There’s a deadline next week. Congress has 60 days to act. That runs out next week. But they will act before that, Gwen. We expect a vote in the House this week. And talking to Senator McConnell’s staff in the Senate, it looks like we could have a vote in the Senate as early as Friday. Maybe that will slip into next week, but in the coming days, that will happen.
Of course, once these votes are over, just like you’re saying, Gwen, I think we’re going to see this issue, well, at least until November of next year on the campaign trail.
GWEN IFILL: So, it’s still all over but the shouting, but the shouting hasn’t stopped.
LISA DESJARDINS: Oh, it will get louder, I think.
GWEN IFILL: Lisa Desjardins for us up tonight on Capitol Hill, thank you very much.
LISA DESJARDINS: You got it.