San Francisco Chronicle: Iran nuclear agreement Nancy Pelosi’s special mission
Nancy Pelosi couldn’t stop the war in Iraq, but she’s determined to stop one with Iran.
In an interview with The Chronicle, the San Francisco Democrat and House minority leader called an impending congressional vote on a nuclear pact with Iran “as important as any vote members will take,” comparing it with the 2002 votes that took the nation to war with Iraq, an action she strenuously opposed.
With Washington all but evacuated in August, Pelosi is relentlessly building a fail-safe mechanism to ensure that the Iran deal clears Congress despite unanimous opposition by majority Republicans in the House and Senate — and by a significant number of Democrats who are uneasy with the deal.
Next month, Congress is expected to vote to disapprove the pact, which calls for Iran to end its quest for a nuclear bomb and submit to inspections. President Obama has promised to veto the congressional disapproval, saying bluntly that if the deal fails, war with Iran will be all but inevitable.
It will be up to Pelosi to make sure his veto sticks and the pact gets signed.
Once Obama issues his veto, the bill will return first to the House. Republicans will need a two-thirds vote in both chambers to override it. Pelosi said Wednesday she expects to have enough House Democrats to ensure the veto is sustained.
“This is going to be gum stuck to your shoe for a very long time,” Pelosi said she told members. “However you vote, you have to vote what you believe. This is a big decision, and you have a responsibility ... to study it. So when you make the decision, it has to be your decision, because it’s going to be your legacy.”
The nuclear pact was negotiated between Iran and six world powers, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. Iran is a longtime nemesis of U.S. interests in the Middle East and avowed enemy of Israel.
Pelosi will need to hold at least 144 of the 188 Democrats in the House to sustain the veto. According to a running count by the newspaper the Hill, 57 are firmly on board with the proposed treaty.
About 100 Democrats are on the fence, including Bay Area members Zoe Lofgren of San Jose and Jared Huffman of San Rafael. Rep. Mike Honda of San Jose came out in support Thursday. Last weekend, Pelosi’s second-in-command, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, led 35 House Democrats on a visit to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is ardently opposed to the deal. The visit followed a GOP delegation led by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield. Hoyer has not said how he will vote.
Republicans say the pact is riddled with loopholes and should be renegotiated. The Israeli ambassador is talking to members, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a major force in Washington, has opened a $40 million campaign against it, targeting Democrats.
The San Francisco-based Ploughshares Fund, a foundation whose mission is to eradicate nuclear weapons, has been organizing and funding outside defenders of the deal.
For her part, Pelosi said she is not pressuring members.
“I’m just saying to people, ‘What do you need, what kind of information do you need, what questions do you have,’” Pelosi said. “They have to come to their decision, and they have to do so being able to answer for it for a long time to come, as the members who voted for the Iraq War have had to answer for that for a long time to come.”
Typical of the Democratic defense was a Chronicle opinion piece this month by Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin. In it, Swalwell, a second-term member of Congress whose district is one of the more conservative in the Bay Area, laid out his arguments for the deal as a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Swalwell said he is “keenly aware of the threat Iran poses to the United States and our closest ally in the Middle East, Israel,” but sees “no realistic or viable alternative to the deal.”
Pelosi has powerful allies in California’s two Democratic senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, both strong supporters of Israel who support the deal. Feinstein, a national-security hawk and top Intelligence Committee Democrat, chastised Netanyahu twice on national television for his criticism of the pact, saying, “I wish that he would contain himself,” and warning that U.S. support for Israel depends on that nation wanting to “solve problems, not make more problems.”
Pelosi called the deal “a major accomplishment,” and said she is speaking as the longest-serving member on the House Intelligence Committee who has had a decades-long interest in stopping Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
“I have some expertise in this area,” Pelosi said, warning that intelligence did not support the Iraq invasion and that “some of the very same people, in our country and outside our country, who were urging a yes on the Iraq War are the ones who are urging a no vote on this agreement.”
If Iran violates the deal and the United States has to go to war, Pelosi said, “our moral authority is much greater if we have honored the terms of the agreement ourselves. If they don’t, there’s a price to pay. But that price will have more international support, I believe, if we give it a chance to work and not walk away now.”