WASHINGTON – In a one-two blow for the Obama administration, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who is expected to take over as Senate Democratic leader in 2017, and New York Rep. Eliot Engel, the ranking Democrat of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, announced Tuesday evening they will vote to oppose the nuclear proliferation deal with Iran made by the United States and other countries.
They join Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey, ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, among the growing number of New York Democrats who will vote against the deal in September.
All three are among the most prominent Jewish lawmakers in Congress and have been under extraordinary pressure from constituents to oppose the deal, which is seen by many as a dire threat to the survival of Israel.
The administration already anticipates the Republican majorities in the House and Senate will vote against the agreement, but is hoping enough Democrats line up in support of it to prevent an override of President Barack Obama’s expected veto.
In recent days, New York Democratic Reps. Steve Israel, Kathleen Rice and Grace Meng have also announced opposition to the deal.
Schumer and Engel are particularly influential because their positions give political cover for other Democrats to vote against the agreement.
In a telephone interview shortly after midnight Wednesday morning, Engel described the decision was especially hard “because this is a Democratic administration and a president I’ve worked with’’
“The main part I find most objectionable is you look at the behaviors of Iran these past years when they had no money and they were still a leading sponsor of international terrorism,’’ Engel said, pointing to its financial support for Hamas, Hezbollah, the Assad regime in Syria and the rebels in Yemen. “Can you imagine how much more destruction that they can do if they are awash in cash?’’
Engel said other key flaws include, “After five years Iran can purchase regular armaments and after 8 years can buy ballistic missiles.” In addition, Iran would be able to delay inspections of suspected nuclear development sites for up to 24 days and “in 15 years Iran is a full-fledged nuclear state’’
Schumer said the upcoming September vote was “momentous’’ and that “the stakes are high and both sides of the issue are vociferous in their views.’’ He described his decision as a “difficult and deliberate endeavor” involving “deep study, careful thought and considerable soul-searching.”
Among the reasons Schumer cited to making his decision to oppose the deal, he cited “serious weaknesses” in the first ten years of the deal.
“First, inspections are not ‘anywhere, anytime;’ the 24-day delay before we can inspect is troubling,’’ Schumer said. “While inspectors would likely be able to detect radioactive isotopes at a site after 24 days, that delay would enable Iran to escape detection of any illicit building and improving of possible military dimensions (PMD) – the tools that go into building a bomb but don’t emit radioactivity.’’
That 24 day delay would hinder the U.S.’s “ability to determine precisely what was being done at that site,’’ he said. “Even more troubling is the fact that the U.S. cannot demand inspections unilaterally.
By requiring the majority of the 8-member Joint Commission, and assuming that China, Russia, and Iran will not cooperate, inspections would require the votes of all three European members of the P5+1 as well as the EU representative. It is reasonable to fear that, once the Europeans become entangled in lucrative economic relations with Iran, they may well be inclined not to rock the boat by voting to allow inspections.’’