Days before AIPAC goes lobbying, major Democrat donors urge Congress to back the administration; Reid decries amendment
Times of Israel
When AIPAC brings some 10,000 activists to the halls of Congress next week on their Tuesday legislative action day, they are expected to push senators to join on as co-signers to the flagging Menendez-Kirk bill.
Although Iran will be a hot topic during AIPAC’s national conference Sunday to Tuesday, lobbyists face a tough road in convincing remaining Senate Democrats to risk the ire of the administration in supporting the bill that would increase sanctions against Iran should current talks on its nuclear program fail.
It will come as little surprise to Washingtonians when AIPAC doubles down on its pressure to recruit new co-sponsors for the legislation. But in advance of the push, over four dozen major Democratic donors – mostly Jewish – sent a letter to Congressional leadership urging them to hold off on any additional sanctions legislation.
Although the letter did not mention the legislation, the donors warned that “Congress should allow these fragile negotiations [with Iran] to proceed without making threats that could derail them or tying the hands of the negotiators by imposing unrealistic terms for a final agreement.”
The donors, who were responsible for over $7 million worth of funds for Obama’s campaigns alone, ruled out any possibility for compromise on the status of the bill, admonishing that “even if Congressional action took the form of a non-binding resolution, or if the President vetoed such legislation, its initial passage would strengthen the hand of Iranian hardliners arguing against negotiations on the ground that Congress will not accept any deal reached at the negotiating table.”
“We urge you to oppose risky Congressional action that, if taken, may lead you to wake up the next morning knowing the result has been to take the diplomatic option off the table,” they added.
Earlier Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) invoked the pro-Israel lobby to argue for a delay on the bill, claiming that AIPAC agreed that the time was wrong to bring the bill to the floor.
Reid blasted Senate Republicans for tying a vote on additional sanctions against Iran to a vote on a bill that would increase health benefits and job training for US military veterans. Democrats needed 60 votes in order to pass the veterans’ bill, but hopes for the legislation dissipated when Reid refused to allow a Republican amendment to be voted upon, because it also included the additional sanctions. The veterans’ bill was ultimately defeated in a 56-41 vote
“It was disappointing – if not surprising – when Republicans almost immediately injected partisan politics into a debate over a bill that should be bipartisan – insisting on an unrelated amendment on Iran that they knew could derail the veterans’ bill,” Reid complained.
He also accused Republicans of trying to make partisan gains as a result of Iran policy. “The idea of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is so unthinkable that Democrats and Republicans have always worked together on this policy,” Reid wrote in a statement Thursday. “Unfortunately, it seems Republicans are trying to erase that history and politicize an issue that has historically been above partisanship.”
Reid noted that 10 committee chairmen “as well as Israel’s strongest supporter, AIPAC, also agree that now is not the right time to bring a sanctions package to the floor.” He quoted the pro-Israel group as saying that “stopping the Iranian nuclear program should rest on bipartisan support and… there should not be a vote at this time on the measure.”
There are currently 59 senators signed on the bill as co-sponsors, and AIPAC and the bill’s other supporters would like to see more than the 13 Democrats who have currently signed on to the bill get on board. Instead, the bill seems to have lost momentum over recent weeks in the face of personal campaigning against it by President Barack Obama.
On Saturday, AIPAC President Michael Kassen and Board of Directors Chairman Lee Rosenberg wrote an op-ed in the New York Times titled “Don’t let up on Iran”. In it, the two wrote that AIPAC supports “a policy that complements the current negotiations with a range of congressional actions that threaten greater economic and diplomatic pressure on the Iranian government.”
The AIPAC officials continued that they “strongly believe that the assertion by Congress of its historic role in foreign policy can, in fact, complement and enhance the administration’s efforts by forcing Iran to recognize the stark implications of intransigence.”
The influential organization included four asks for congress: to “outline for Iran the acceptable terms of a final accord”; to “exercise oversight to ensure that Tehran understands that our existing core sanctions architecture will remain in place for the full duration of the negotiations”; to “oversee continual implementation of the interim agreement”; and finally ending with a statement of support for the Menendez-Kirk bill, formally titled the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act.
In the op-ed, the two AIPAC leaders said that they agreed with Senator Menendez’s decision to delay a vote in the Senate, but not for the reasons cited by Reid – that it was the wrong point in negotiations to vote on it and that it would undermine talks. In fact, the entire first half of the op-ed was devoted to why AIPAC believes that the legislation would be beneficial to the United States’ negotiating stance.
The bill needs the additional support of eight more Democratic senators to render it veto-proof.