On Sunday, a full diplomatic agreement was reached between Iran and the United States (as part of the P5+1) which exchanges Iran taking further steps toward freezing its nuclear program for the easing of economic sanctions. Now, it's being reported that President Obama has invited the entire Senate Democratic caucus to a private meeting on Wednesday.
The reason? White House aids admit that one of the topics – and it's likely the primary topic – will be Senate Democrats' growing support for (or silence on) the Iran sanctions bill championed by Senators Chuck Schumer and Robert Menendez meant to undermine America's diplomatic progress with Iran.
Greg Sargent at The Washington Post has so far counted 18 Democratic Senators for the bill and 10 against. However, it's the over 30 Democratic senators who have been silent on whether they support the bill that has most perplexed Sargent, despite the fact that the bill might not make it to the floor:
We’re very close now to the 60 votes it needs to pass. The Dem leadership has no plans to bring it to the floor, but there are other procedural ways proponents could try to force a vote. And if the numbers in favor of the bill continue to mount, it could increase pressure on Harry Reid to move it forward. Yes, the president could veto it if it did pass. But we’re actually not all that far away from a veto-proof majority.So why are Senate Democrats uncharacteristically abandoning President Obama – or refusing to publicly support him – on a diplomatic foreign policy initiative? Why are Democrats not rallying behind the White House, particularly as it publicly states that those who support the sanctions bill must also admit that they support "a march toward war" with Iran?
So it’s a bit puzzling that we’ve heard so little from Senate Dems who might be inclined to support the White House in holding the line against the sanctions bill right now.
This is how The New York Times characterizes what is behind Senate opposition to Obama's diplomacy with Iran:
Behind these positions is a potent mix of political calculations in a midterm election year. Pro-Israel groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or Aipac, have lobbied Congress to ratchet up the pressure on Iran, and many lawmakers are convinced that Tehran is bluffing in its threats to walk away from talks [if Congress passes the sanctions bill].The Times here makes a surprisingly close correlation between lobbying efforts by groups such as AIPAC and Senate Democrats' refusal to support Obama's diplomatic breakthrough. For when it states that there is a "potent mix of political calculations in a midterm election year," it's not talking about public opinion. For a Reuters/Ipsos poll in November showed Americans back diplomatic agreement with Iran by a 2-1 margin.
And it's not surprising the Times would make this connection, given that a number of political observers feel AIPAC lobbyists have likely had a hand in helping to either craft or advise Schumer on parts of his bill.
In an environment in which the American public supports President Obama's efforts, and in which Republicans will oppose anything the president does in their unilateral obstructionism, it is deeply troubling that Senate Democrats are leaning toward aligning themselves with the GOP on a critical foreign policy issue.
Why on this issue? Why are Senate Democrats turning hawkish in the face of an incredible opportunity for a diplomatic breakthrough, and a chance to align with the substantial anti-war left?
If indeed a significant, behind-the-scenes pressure moving our elected leaders against our President is 'pro-Israel' lobbying groups, and if America's historic diplomatic progress with Iran is railroaded as a result of such pressure, the implications would be astounding.
And as an American Jew, as a pro-Israel progressive, and as a Democrat, I stand firmly against such pressure, against such aligning with the GOP, and against such caving by our Democratic leaders.
I stand with President Obama.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, just out from Oneworld Publications.