WASHINGTON — Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland became the crucial 34th vote in favor the Iran nuclear deal Wednesday, ensuring a landmark victory for President Barack Obama over ferocious opposition from Republicans and the government of Israel.
“No deal is perfect, especially one negotiated with the Iranian regime,” Mikulski said in a statement. “I have concluded that this Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is the best option available to block Iran from having a nuclear bomb. For these reasons, I will vote in favor of this deal.”
Mikulski’s backing gives supporters the margin they need to uphold an expected Obama veto of a congressional resolution of disapproval that Republicans hope to pass later this month.
And it spells failure for opponents of the international agreement who sought to foil it by turning Congress against it. Leading that effort were Israel and its allies in the U.S., who failed to get traction after spending millions of dollars trying.
The agreement signed by Iran, the U.S. and five other world powers limits Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from hundreds of billions of dollars in sanctions. Republicans and Israeli leaders contend that concessions made to Iran could empower that country, which has sworn to destroy Israel.
Secretary of State John Kerry is sending a letter to all members of Congress outlining U.S. security commitments to Israel and the Gulf Arab states in light of the nuclear deal. The letter comes as Kerry delivers a major policy speech Wednesday in Philadelphia that focuses on how the international agreement makes the U.S. and its allies safer and how the deal is being mischaracterized by some opponents.
“I really believe the fastest way to a genuine arms race in the Middle East is to not have this agreement,” Kerry said in a nationally broadcast interview Wednesday. “Because if you don’t have this agreement, Iran has already made clear what its direction is.”
With opposition to the agreement failing to take hold on the Democratic side, supporters may even be able to muster the 41 votes needed to block the resolution from passing in the first place, sparing Obama from having to use his veto pen. That would require seven of the 11 remaining undeclared senators to decide in favor of the deal.
Only two Democratic senators have come out against the deal — Chuck Schumer of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey — while in recent weeks undeclared Democratic senators, even from red states, have broken in favor one after another.
Even if Congress were able to pass the disapproval resolution, it can’t stop the deal, which was agreed to among Iran, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. In July, the U.N. Security Council unanimously endorsed the nuclear deal, approving a resolution that would lift the international sanctions on Iran in 90 days.
Interviewed on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program Wednesday, Kerry said that the absence of an agreement is what could lead to a nuclear arms race in the region. Putting the deal in place, he said, will keep other nations “from chasing a weapon on their own.”
Kerry also said that if the U.S. rejects the deal, it would confirm the fears of Iran’s leaders “that you can’t deal with the West, that you can’t trust the West.”