Proponents and detractors of the Iran nuclear deal are working overtime — and spending millions of dollars — to lobby undecided members of Congress over the summer recess.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, in addition to urging its members to lobby Congress to vote against the deal, is backing Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, a new action committee set to run television spots across the country. The group reportedly has raised between $20 million and $40 million to run television and digital ads in 40 states, according to pro-Israel officials briefed by CNFI.
“This campaign is focused on educating the public about serious flaws in the Iran deal,” said Patrick Dorton, a spokesman for CNFI. “We are urging the public and their representatives to oppose the deal.”
Under the terms of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, passed earlier this year due largely to the efforts of Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Congress has 60 days to review the deal and vote on it. Should Congress send President Barack Obama a joint resolution of disapproval, the president has 12 days to issue a veto, which he has promised to do.
Congress would then have 10 days to get a two-thirds majority of both the Senate and House to vote to override the veto. Assuming that Republicans remain united in their opposition to the deal, 13 Democrats in the Senate and 44 in the House would need to break with Obama to override the veto. Such an override would prevent the administration from lifting nuclear-related sanctions on Iran.
CNFI intends to be engaged throughout the review period. Asked whether CNFI is targeting specific members of Congress, Dorton declined to comment, saying, “Our audience is bipartisan. We hope both Democrats and Republicans oppose this deal on the merits.”
He continued: “This deal would ignite a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, reward a country with a terrible human rights record and … increase Iranian support of terror in the region.”
J Street officials acknowledged they don’t have tens of millions of dollars at their disposal but have the means to make their position in favor of the Iran deal known.
The self-described pro-Israel, pro-peace lobbying group, has raised $2.5 million to promote the deal and continues to fundraise, according to Jessica Rosenblum, director of communications for J Street. The organization rolled out a 30-second ad airing on network and cable television nationally last week and took out a full page ad in last Thursday’s New York Times. J Street intends to roll out a series of national and targeted state buys in print, broadcast and digital.
AIPAC was slated to fly supporters to Capitol Hill this week to lobby politicians to vote against the deal. J Street was bringing among others, former IDF Gen. Amram Mitzna, to support the deal.
Said Rosenblum, “This will be a hard-fought and hard-won battle in Congress, and we think it’s incredibly important to make heard the vast majority of pro-Israel American Jews who support this deal.”
Also utilizing The New York Times is billionaire and Birthright co-founder Michael Steinhardt, who along with the World Values Network, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s organization, ran a full-page ad addressed to Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) in last Saturday’s edition of the newspaper.
Written as a letter signed by Steinhardt, the ad read in part, “President Obama’s deal with Iran is as dangerous as it is reckless. It is a victory for our mortal enemies and an ill-afforded loss for our most trusted friends.”
Schumer is seen as the key to getting the needed Democrats on board to override a veto.
Former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, who sits on the board of CNFI, said on a New York radio show Sunday, “I just can’t believe Chuck Schumer will support this. Chuck is the key.”
Schumer, the presumptive next majority leader, has not publicly declared how he will vote. He has repeatedly stated, as recently as this past Sunday, that he is “studying [the deal] very carefully.”
Melissa Apter is the political reporter for Washington Jewish Week. She can be reached at email@example.com.