WASHINGTON — Sen. Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat expected to be the party's next leader in the Senate, said he will oppose the Iran nuclear deal in spite of President Barack Obama's intense lobbying in favour of the accord.
The deal, struck last month with Tehran and Western powers, would curb Iran's nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in relief from crippling sanctions.
"The very real risk that Iran will not moderate and will, instead, use the agreement to pursue its nefarious goals is too great," Schumer said in opposing the pact. He said he based his decision on the nuclear and non-nuclear elements of the accord and on the question, "Are we better off with the agreement or without it?"
A leading Jewish Democrat, Schumer was the first senator of Obama's party to step forward to oppose the deal. His announcement Thursday night came just hours after two other Senate Democrats — New York's Kirsten Gillibrand and New Hampshire's Jeanne Shaheen — announced their support for the international accord.
"After deep study, careful thought and considerable soul-searching, I have decided I must oppose the agreement and will vote yes on a motion of disapproval," he said in a statement issued weeks before he will cast a vote.
The administration, which has lobbied intensely for the pact, has secured the backing of more than a dozen Senate Democrats and more than two-dozen House Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Republicans, who control the House and Senate, have been uniformly opposed to the deal.
The House and Senate will begin debate on a resolution of disapproval when lawmakers return to Washington on Sept. 8 after their August recess. The administration needs Democratic support to sustain a widely expected veto by Obama of any resolution of disapproval.
Schumer's decision was a blow to the administration, though it remained to be seen how many other Democratic lawmakers would follow the New York senator. He informed the White House of his decision Thursday afternoon. New York Rep. Eliot Engel, who is Jewish and the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement that he too would oppose the deal.
The powerful pro-Israel lobby American Israel Public Affairs Committee is vehemently opposed to the deal, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denounced as undermining the security of Israel and the region. Opponents of the pact have targeted Schumer in campaign-style ads.