Area legislators express skepticism, worries on Iran nuclear deal

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 Sen. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, arrives before Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, and Secretary of Treasury Jack Lew arrive to testify at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Thursday, July 23, 2015, to review the Iran nuclear agreement. (Andrew Harnik/AP Photo)

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, arrives before Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, and Secretary of Treasury Jack Lew arrive to testify at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Thursday, July 23, 2015, to review the Iran nuclear agreement. (Andrew Harnik/AP Photo)

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Secretary of State John Kerry know each other well from their days serving together as Senate Democrats. 

But none of that collegiality was on display recently when Menendez questioned Kerry on the Iran deal, which calls on Iran to curb its nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in sanctions relief.

“Mr. Secretary, let me ask you this, I’m seriously concerned about the lifting of the arms embargo that creeped its way into this deal,” yelled Menendez after cutting off a fidgeting and frustrated Kerry. Menendez laid out a laundry list of issues he has with the deal, including concerns that it will allow Iran to develop an industrial-scale nuclear power program. Still, the veteran lawmaker has not decided whether he will support the deal.”Well, I haven’t become an opponent. I’m just highly skeptical of it for a whole host of reasons, and I haven’t come to a final decision in the hopes that I can get some good answers to some tough questions,” Menendez said. “But you know when I get to the final conclusion, you know I’ll let my colleagues and the whole world know about it.” If he does come out against it, Menendez may not be able to rally the troops against it as he once did. He’s had to step aside as the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee after the Department of Justice lodged a 14-count indictment against him alleging he accepted lavish bribes.

The Republican chairman of the committee, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, said Menendez isn’t playing the lead role on Iran as he would have a few months ago.”Any time you’re not the lead person, it affects things,” Corker said.However, Corker said, New Jersey’s senior senator still holds sway.”I don’t think it’s diminished in any way his impact as far as the types of arguments he makes and the way people listen intently to what he has to say,” Corker added.That’s partly because Menendez took a leading role in crafting the sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy.

Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, who is replacing Menendez as the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said positions on the Iran deal transcend the White House’s lobbying blitz or efforts by opponents to torpedo the deal.”I think it’s an individual judgment here,” Cardin said. “So I think I’m not sure we’re persuading other people. It’s how our own views are being formed.

“I think Sen. Menendez raises a lot of questions that many of us have. And it’s been helpful in the process.”Legislators from the Delaware Valley region weigh in

The president can’t expect much — if any — support from Republicans, especially not Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.”I think they were just so determined to get a deal, that they agreed to a terrible one,” Toomey said.As the White House feverishly tries to round up support from congressional Democrats, it looks like the president will need allies in the Senate from the Delaware Valley. So far, he hasn’t solidified any. With the Secretary of State sitting in front of him at a hearing, Delaware’s junior Sen. Chris Coons described the Iran deal this way.“And I’ll say as I look at, not the spin or the politics of this agreement, but as I dig into the substance of it, it is an agreement built on distrust. It is a wedding day where the bride is shouting, ‘I hate you and your family.’ And the groom is shouting, ‘I distrust you and you’ve always cheated on me.’

“And each is announcing their distrust of the other really at the outset. And I do wonder what the alternative is, given the disagreement is inevitable,” Coons said.

Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Cory Booker of New Jersey are still reviewing the proposal and have yet to endorse or condemn the deal.

Delaware’s senior Sen. Tom Carper, currently the president’s best bet in the region, said opponents of the deal have not convinced him there’s a better alternative.”I’m leaning yes and still going through information gathering,” he said.Still, Carper said he needs a little more convincing on at least one sticking point.”Our ability to police the deal, and if the Iranians, for lack of a better word, cheat — for us to know that and to be able to call them on it,” he said.The lawmakers will be spending the bulk of August away from the Washington on their summer break. That gives constituents back home a chance to try to sway their positions.

House and Senate Republicans have enough votes to pass a resolution of disapproval next month, but Obama is widely expected to veto that resolution and Republicans will then try to overturn the veto.

Faced with uniform GOP opposition, the administration has targeted Democrats — and 21 of the 188 House Democrats have announced their support while nine oppose the deal.

In the Senate, 34 Democrats would be needed to sustain a veto.

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