President Barack Obama’s legacy-defining Iran deal is safe and well on its way now, with the deal gaining all the congressional votes it needed to survive any attempt to kill it on Wednesday.
Obama had needed 34 votes to prevent the 100-member senate from voting down the deal, and then over-ride his constitutional power to veto it. He got his winning 34th vote of approval this morning.
Calling the deal the “best option available to block Iran from having a nuclear bomb”, Senator Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat, handed Obama victory in a fight that has divided his own party.
Democrats now want to garner more votes — go up to 41 — to enable them to prevent opponents of the deal from even bringing a resolution denouncing it. That will complete the victory.
The deal picked up its 32nd and 33rd senate votes on Tuesday with two Democrats announcing their support, stapled with the pro-forma denunciation of Iran and profession of love for Israel.
India has closely followed the head-count on the Capitol Hill but has been wary of getting dragged into a bitter bipartisan fight as a major buyer of Iranian crude oil.
Iran was India’s second largest supplier of crude before US-led sanctions made it impossible to pay for them. India owes Iran $8.8 billion in unpaid bills as a result.
India has welcomed the deal Iran signed with P5+1 in July and has already announced its readiness to release Iranian money sitting in an escrow account in an Indian bank.
In the US, Congress has until September 18, 60 days of being officially notified of the deal, to discuss and vote to approve or disapprove the agreement. The debate begins next week.
Republicans, who control both the senate and the House, have vowed to kill the deal. But they need the support of the Democrats in both chambers to over-ride a presidential veto.
They just lost that battle, though some Democrats had indeed come out against the deal, including Senator Charles Schumer, who is the party’s next leader in the upper House.
In the end, however, their numbers fell far too short to matter.
Opponents of the deal have argued that it doesn’t prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons completely, for all times, and allows it to access billions in frozen assets.
Supporters argue that the deal delays Iran's acquisition of a nuclear weapon, known as breakout time, and that the sanctions could not be enforced in perpetuity.
Many lawmakers had checked with India and other buyers of Iranian crude on where they stood on the frozen assets, and, according to sources, the news they got was not so good.
As the Obama administration lobbied Congress, think-tanks, the Jewish community, and even media, the President led from the front doing multiple interviews, events and one-on-ones.
At the first news conference on the issue, for instance, Obama hung back to take more questions after running through the list of questioners handed to him by his press office.
His officials briefed and re-briefed lawmakers individually and in groups, and as many times as required. Secretary of state John Kerry was to address the issue from Philadelphia Wednesday.