President Obama personally leaked news that Senator Chuck Schumer had decided to oppose his Iran deal, even after Schumer personally asked the President not to mention it until he could make an announcement Friday.
During last night’s widely-viewed GOP debate, word began to circulate that Sen. Schumer had decided to oppose President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. The leak appeared timed to make sure the high-level Democratic defection–Schumer is the 3rd highest ranking Democrat in Congress–got as little attention as possible.
A story at Politico confirms the leak was in fact timed for minimum impact, but not by Schumer himself. According to an unnamed source familiar with Schumer’s decision, the Senator called President Obama Thursday afternoon to say he had decided to oppose the deal. Schumer asked the President not to mention his decision publicly until he could make a formal announcement on Friday. Politico’s source was careful to emphasize that Schumer told no one else about his decision, meaning only President Obama himself could have made the decision to leak the story to the press.
After word leaked out, Sen. Schumer issued a lengthy statement about his opposition to the deal on his website. The statement breaks his opposition into three parts. He writes that he finds the arguments for the deal over the first 10-years “plausible” but says the inspections regime has “serious weaknesses” and that the snap back of sanctions process is “cumbersome.” In addition, Schumer believes that after 10-years Iran will have a nuclear program approved by the United States. Finally, Schumer considers the non-nuclear parts of the deal and concludes, “When it comes to the non-nuclear aspects of the deal, I think there is a strong case that we are better off without an agreement than with one.”
Congress is expected to vote against the deal when they return from the August recess. However, that decision can be vetoed by the President. Congress needs a 2/3 vote to override that expected veto. That means the President needs just 34 Senators to take his side. So far he has at least twelve.
But as a high ranking Democrat in line to become the next Senate leader of his party, Schumer’s defection has the potential to weaken the resolve of other Democrats. Rep. Eliot Engel announced his opposition to the deal last night, shortly after word of Schumer’s decision broke. For this reason, the White House had urged Schumer to avoid announcing his decision until the very end of the process, or at least after enough Senators had declared themselves to make it a non-issue.
The spin coming out of the White House now is that Schumer’s defection is a clear signal that a win for their side is inevitable. The thinking goes that an insider like Schumer wouldn’t really put Obama’s foreign policy legacy at risk, therefore his planned Friday announcement must be a signal that the votes are there to prevent a veto override vote without him. As Politico frames it, “Bad news is being taken as almost good news at the White House.”
Contradicting this claim is the fact that the White House seemed to be expressing some anger at Schumer earlier in the day. White House spokesman Josh Earnest suggested Friday that Schumer’s defection could become an obstacle to his becoming Democratic leader after Harry Reid leaves the Senate. Other White House surrogates made similar noises.
One thing is certain. If President Obama determined it was important enough to pull the rug out from Schumer and try (unsuccessfully) to bury the news of his defection under the GOP debate, he can’t be completely confident of the outcome.