Arizona Senator Jeff Flake announced that he would oppose the Iran nuclear deal. Flake had been the subject of heavy White House lobbying as President Obama sought to put a patina of bi-partisanship on the agreement.
The agreement that Iran reached with the United States and other world powers on July 14 “does contain benefits in terms of limiting Iran’s ability to produce sufficient fissile material for a nuclear weapon for a period of time, particularly at its known nuclear facilities,” Flake said in a statement.
“But these benefits are outweighed by severe limitations the (agreement) places on Congress and future administrations in responding to Iran’s non-nuclear behavior in the region,” Flake added.
The White House had held out some hope that Flake, a Senate Foreign Relations Committee member, would buck his party and possibly bring some other Republicans with him in support of the agreement.
Flake was the only Republican lawmaker who traveled with President Barack Obama to Africa in July. White House officials lobbied him during that trip to support the deal. Flake had backed Obama’s moves on another important foreign policy initiative, establishing warmer relations with Cuba.
White House officials declined comment on Flake’s decision but noted seven Democrats had come out in favor of the deal in the past week.
When Congress returns to work on Sept. 8, debate will begin on a Republican-sponsored “resolution of disapproval” against the deal. That resolution is expected to pass. Obama is poised to veto such a measure, and would need 34 votes in the 100-seat Senate to block the override of that veto and preserve the Iran agreement.
The latest whip list shows 20 Democratic Senators in favor of the deal, 14 short of upholding the president’s expected veto. There are 7 more Senators leaning toward supporting the deal — all very liberal or reliable Obama supporters.
Only one Democrat — Chuck Schumer — has declared himself opposed to the agreement. That leaves 18 Democratic Senators, of which the president needs at least 7 to have his veto upheld in the upper chamber.
But opponents will probably need 12 of the remaining 18 undecided Senators to override. It’s an uphill climb, but not entirely out of the question. A couple of the Democratic undecideds may surprise and Schumer is still working the phones trying to bring a few other Senators along with him.
Both sides are saying the final vote to override the president’s veto will be close — two or three votes being the difference either way. Considering the stakes, it may be the most important vote some of those Senators will ever cast.