Iran dis­agree­ment shakes pol­i­tics of Amer­ica’s rul­ing Demo­cratic Party ahead of tur­bu­lent cam­paign


The White House re­sponded with ill-dis­guised anger Fri­day to news that Chuck Schumer, a key rul­ing Demo­cratic Party law­maker in the U.S. Se­nate, will op­pose the land­mark nu­clear deal with Iran.

In a state­ment — pur­posely an­nounced at the same time as the op­po­si­tion Repub­li­can Party’s pres­i­den­tial de­bate Thurs­day — Schumer said planned in­spec­tions of Iran’s nu­clear sites were not in­tru­sive enough and would al­low it to be­come a thresh­old nu­clear state.

The loss of the U.S. Congress’s most in­flu­en­tial Jewish mem­ber is a blow to Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, who is try­ing to rally enough votes in the Se­nate to pro­tect the agree­ment from be­ing over­turned.

“It makes the deal much more vul­ner­a­ble both now in terms of con­gres­sional sup­port but also with next pres­i­dent who will have to fol­low through,” said Ju­lian Zelizer of Prince­ton Univer­sity.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest de­scribed Schumer’s de­ci­sion as “dis­ap­point­ing” but “not par­tic­u­larly sur­pris­ing.”

But the civil tone be­lied seething re­sent­ment among Obama al­lies.

It is re­sent­ment that could have a last­ing im­pact on who leads the Demo­cratic Party in the Se­nate af­ter cur­rent leader Harry Reid re­tires in 2016.

“Sen. Schumer sid­ing with the GOP against Obama, (Hil­lary) Clin­ton, and most Democrats will make it hard for him to lead the Dems in ‘16,” said Dan Pfeif­fer, a long-time Obama se­nior ad­vi­sor who left the ad­min­is­tra­tion in March.

Last Straw

While al­lies, Schumer and Obama have dis­agreed on sev­eral ma­jor is­sues over the years.

Schumer voted for the war in Iraq, sug­gested Obama’s sig­na­ture healthcare re­form was a mis­take and now op­poses the Iran deal. That was the last straw for some. “Chuck Schumer, who said it was a mis­take to pass Oba­macare, now comes out again the Iran Deal. This is our next Se­nate leader?” asked Jon Favreau, a for­mer Obama speech­writer.

Schumer’s for­mer room­mate, Sen. Dick Durbin had also been in the run­ning to take the cov­eted top Demo­cratic spot in the Se­nate.

He may now see an open­ing to press his case.

Depend­ing on the out­come of the 2016 elec­tion the per­son hold­ing that post will ei­ther run Se­nate busi­ness as the ma­jor­ity leader — if the Democrats re­gain the ma­jor­ity — or lead the op­po­si­tion if they do not.

Pre­vi­ous hold­ers of the post in­clude Lyn­don John­son, who went on to be­come pres­i­dent.

The White House said it was up to Se­nate Democrats to de­cide their leader, but dropped heavy hints about what they thought of Schumer’s ac­tions.

“I cer­tainly wouldn’t be

sur- prised if there are in­di­vid­ual mem­bers of the Se­nate Demo­cratic cau­cus that will con­sider the vot­ing record of those who say they would like to lead the cau­cus,” said Earnest.

Earnest also made sev­eral ref­er­ences to Schumer’s back­ing for the 2003 in­va­sion of Iraq.

The New York Times, Schumer’s home-state news­pa­per was more scathing, say­ing he had “cast his lot with Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates.”

Ac­tion group fumed, say­ing they would with­hold US$10 mil­lion in con­tri­bu­tions to candi- dates who un­der­mine Obama’s diplo­macy with Iran.

The ill, Zelizer said, will “could cost him con­sid­er­able sup­port among Se­nate Democrats who un­der­stand this is po­lit­i­cal blow to the ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

There was, how­ever, some praise for Schumer.

Hard-line Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Ted Cruz praised Schumer’s “brav­ery” and urged him to lead the charge against the deal.

It is an endorsement that even a be­sieged Schumer could per­haps do with­out.

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