Senators on opposite sides of the aisle were unified today in their insistence that Congress weigh in on a nuclear agreement with Iran even as the White House indicated Saturday that President Obama would veto such a bill.
Opening the sold-out American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington this morning, Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) joined hands and raised them in solidarity while greeting the crowd.
“I’m glad we’re negotiating … nobody wants another war with anyone,” said Graham, stressing that Congress needs to “look at the deal, debate the deal and vote on the deal… if it is a good deal, I will vote for it.”
He added that the “political resume in history will look very bad” of a senator who votes against the deal just to cast an anti-Obama vote. The White House doesn’t even want a vote, though, with National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan arguing lawmakers “should give our negotiators the best chance of success, rather than complicating their efforts” — and stay out of it.
Graham said his definition of a “good deal” would not allow Iran “one day to develop a nuclear weapon” or lock in place an enrichment program. It would allow the Islamic Republic a “peaceful nuclear energy program that can never turn into a weapons program.”
“Quite frankly, you can’t trust Iran,” Cardin noted, stressing that we “must have an enforceable agreement.”
The Maryland Democrat said the only reason that Iran is negotiating now is because of sanctions pressure, thanks to Congress. “They don’t want to voluntarily give up their nuclear weapons program, so we’ve got to keep the heat on,” Cardin said.
Graham noted the problem of the negotiating partners in the P5+1: “I don’t really have a lot of faith in the Russians to get us to the promised land.”
“As we negotiate with the Iranians they have toppled four Arab capitals,” he said, citing the Houthi overthrow in Yemen, support of Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah, and Shiite militias “wreaking havoc” in Iraq. “This is what they’re doing without a nuclear weapon… and what do you think they want to do long term? Become part of the family of nations?”
“They lie, they cheat, they kill Americans, they would destroy Israel tomorrow if they could — so understand who you’re dealing with.”
Cardin said that after multiple delays “Iran’s got to make a decision whether it will move forward or not.”
“If they decide not to move forward then we have to toughen the sanctions, we have to toughen the isolation… we have to make sure there are consequences for their actions,” he said. “…This affects regional security, it affects global security, so there’s a lot at stake.”
Graham highlighted how “not one Arab nation has felt the need to go nuclear because Israel is perceived to have a nuclear weapon, because they’re afraid Israel will wake up and wipe them off the map” — but he’s been assured by Arab leaders that Iran going nuclear will spark an arms race.
The biggest applause line of the morning was when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Tuesday speech to Congress was mentioned.
Cardin said he didn’t agree with the way the speech was booked, but “don’t lose focus — the bad guy is Iran.”
“The focus must be on Iran negotiations — we can never allow Israel to become a political wedge issue.”
Graham promised to “be there on the front row,” listen to Netanyahu, “then I’ll decide what’s best for America.”
The South Carolina Republican said the thousands of AIPAC lobbyists in town, who will swarm Capitol Hill on Tuesday to press for a veto-proof majority for Congress to review any Iran deal, are more important than Bibi’s visit. “You are the Marines,” Graham told the crowd. “The Marines have landed in Washington… you’re going to make more difference than any speech any politician could deliver.”
“God bless you,” he added. “If you weren’t here, I don’t know what would happen.”
Cardin said that despite the row over Netanyahu’s speech the U.S.-Israel relationship is “strong, I think it’s bipartisan, I think it’s bicameral.”
Cardin will be introducing legislation this week along with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) that would compel the U.S. to stop doing business with those who join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Graham patted his colleague on the shoulder as he spoke: “If I’m not a co-sponsor, I will be.”
Graham, who’s chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that holds the purse strings on international aid, said Cardin’s legislation is “absolutely important to put the world on notice.”
“I’m going to put the UN on notice,” he said, promising that if the international body accepts anti-Semitism “running rampant through Europe we’re going to cut off their money, too.”
On ISIS? “I see radical Islam running wild in the Middle East… and if you don’t want to admit that you won’t defeat it,” Graham said. “It is our fight. The king of Jordan is right about it, and he’s next if we don’t watch it.”
“They want a master religion, just like the Nazis wanted a master race … this is our war, too; this is a war of good people against evil and there’s only one outcome that’s acceptable — they lose, we win.”
AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr told the crowd that they’ve spent “hours” lobbying for lawmakers to attend the Netanyahu speech.
“We hope and urge members of Congress to be there to hear what he has to say,” Kohr said, noting only “dramatic pressure” will compel Iran to give up its nuclear weapons program.