Give Chuck Schumer credit for political courage. The New York senator, on the road to becoming the Senate Democratic leader after Harry Reid’s departure, might be risking his political career by announcing that he will vote against President Obama’s major foreign policy “achievement.”
Speculation was that Schumer would not make his decision public, but quietly vote against it. Such a path would have allowed him to avoid the wrath of the large Jewish community that had lobbied him against the deal, as well as the administration and other Democrats who would be grateful that he had not made his decision known in advance. Schumer did not do that. While the administration anticipated that he would ultimately vote against it, they are furious that he made the announcement with so many weeks left to go before the vote when it might influence other Democrats to follow him.
Not only did Schumer write a powerful explanation of why he reached his decision, but he then had a spokesman tell Bloomberg’s Eli Lake “that Schumer would also vote to override an expected Obama veto if the rejection measure passes Congress.”
Schumer made his decision after serious consideration of the deal’s terms. The New York Times reported that before reaching his decision, he met individually with both the president and secretary of State, with the chief negotiator Wendy Sherman, and with other members of the negotiating team. He got answers to 14 pages of questions he had submitted to them. Then he met with others including Dennis Ross, Sandy Berger, and Amos Yadlin, a former Israeli air force general. Finally, he spoke with AIPAC leaders who are lobbying against the deal, and with J Street, the leftist Obama apologists who are working on the deal’s behalf. To put it bluntly, Mr. Schumer took his job seriously, and left no stone unturned before deciding to publicly oppose the deal.
That defection is being taken quite seriously by the administration. Indeed, fear of Democrats deserting the administration is precisely why President Obama gave his speech at American University. But instead of drawing praise and support, the president’s snarky remarks and claim that those opposing the deal are warmongers who made “common cause” with the hardliners of Iran only brought on more criticism for his divisive attitude and his clear attempt to not take the fears of opponents seriously. Now he can add Schumer to that list.
Despite this, some conservatives are skeptical about how much Schumer will do to get other Democratic fence-sitters to join him. Writing in Commentary, Jonathan Tobin argues that to prove he is really against the deal, Schumer has to work hard to rally other Democrats to join him. Otherwise, Schumer might simply sit out the fight, or even “work behind the scenes to ensure that Obama will get enough votes to sustain a veto of a resolution rejecting the deal.” He concludes:
That is why Schumer and others who also see themselves as guardians of the alliance [between the U.S. and Israel] can’t merely vote no and then shrug their shoulders while other Democrats allow this disgraceful act of appeasement to survive Congressional scrutiny. The fact that Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a close Schumer ally, has now said she will vote for the deal is an ominous sign that New York’s senior senator is sitting this fight out.
Tobin has a point, but I agree with his colleague at Commentary, Max Boot, who writes that even if the argument made by Tobin and others has merit, “it still means something when the likely next leader of the Senate Democrats announces his opposition to the signature foreign policy achievement of a Democratic president.” And most importantly, Schumer’s opposition “exposes the deep flaws in the agreement” and undermines Obama’s and Kerry’s key arguments for the deal.
That is why the administration is hitting back. On Friday, Josh Earnest said that he wouldn’t be surprised if “Senate Democrats consider Schumer’s decision in picking their next leader.” Schumer and other Democrats opposing the deal, including Rep Steve Israel of New York, the most senior Democrat in the House; Rep. Nita M. Lowey of NY, who is the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee; Rep Ted Deutch of Florida; and Rep. Eliot L. Engel of NY, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, can expect to be attacked.
Indeed, Politico reports today that not only did the White House hit Schumer as hard as they could, they sabotaged his request that his decision not be made public until Friday. (Schumer had wanted the time to let his own NYC constituents learn of his decision.) Schumer had spoken directly to the president, to whom Schumer personally made that request. Almost before he had time to hang up his phone, Schumer’s decision was leaked to the press — made public just as the Republican debate was going on. What especially enraged the White House was Schumer’s timing, with “four weeks and lots of undecided members to go.”
Now, in addition to the White House campaign against its critics, the Democrat Party’s far left is going all out to condemn them, concentrating on Schumer in particular. Becky Bond, the political director of CREDO Action, told The Hill:
Chuck Schumer was wrong on Iraq and he is wrong on Iran. Schumer’s decision to join Republicans in attempting to sabotage the Iran nuclear deal once again shows that he is unfit to lead senate Democrats. Perhaps it is time to change his nickname from Wall Street Chuck to Warmonger Chuck.
Joining CREDO Action is MoveOn.org. Its political action director, Ilya Sheyman, released this statement immediately after Schumer’s announcement:
While not unexpected, it is outrageous and unacceptable that the Democrat who wants to be the party’s leader in the Senate is siding with the Republican partisans and neoconservative ideologues who are trying to scrap this agreement and put us on the path to war…. Our country doesn’t need another Joe Lieberman in the Senate, and it certainly doesn’t need him as Democratic leader. The vast majority of Democratic voters — the people who elected President Obama in part because of our shared belief that war must always be a last resort — will not stand for it. Frankly, we thought Senator Schumer and other Democrats in Washington had learned their lesson after being misled into supporting a misguided war of choice in Iraq.
Branding Schumer as “not a real Democrat” and “another Joe Lieberman,” Sheyman proclaimed that “the vast majority of Democratic voters will not stand for it.” For good effect, she added : “No real Democratic leader does this.”
And today’s Politico report quotes Tommy Vietor, former NSC spokesman in the Obama administration, asking: “How can Chuck Schumer be majority leader if he bucks Obama and the majority of the Democratic party on Iran Deal?”
Anyone reading Schumer’s statement can immediately see how hard it was for him to take this stand, and see the respect and admiration he has for President Obama and his administration. He is, after all, the quintessential liberal Democrat. Evidently, those credentials no longer count for the administration, and as I pointed out last week , Obama called out his left-wing base to do his dirty work and clearly they are not wasting any time.
The next four weeks will tell us if any other Democrats join Chuck Schumer, and whether or not the president has enough votes to sustain a vote to override his veto. Support for Israel must be bipartisan, so I give kudos to those Democrats willing to buck the administration and join Schumer in coming out against what is a horrendous agreement with Iran.