Blows for Obama as key lawmakers come out against Iran deal

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Sen. Chuck Schumer Breaks With Obama, Will Vote Against Iran Deal

U.S. President Barack Obama's hopes of preserving the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers were dealt a setback on Thursday when Chuck Schumer, one of the top Democrats in the U.S. Senate, said he would the oppose the agreement.

Schumer's opposition, announced in a lengthy statement, could pave the way for more of Obama's fellow Democrats to come out against the nuclear pact announced on July 1 between the United States, five other world powers and Iran.

The New York senator is among the most influential Jewish lawmakers in the United States. He was the first Senate Democrat to announce his opposition to the agreement.

Another influential Jewish lawmaker, U.S. Representative Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, also said on Thursday he would oppose the nuclear pact in a statement obtained by Reuters.

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Blows for Obama as key lawmakers come out against Iran deal
UNITED STATES - August 4: Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., arrives for a news conference after the Senate Policy luncheons in the Capitol, Tuesday, August 4, 2015. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., center, with Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., right, and Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan, left, speaks to reporters during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 12, 2015, urging Congressional Republicans to support sequestration relief in the upcoming budget. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Ranking Member Rep. Eliot Engel before a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing in Washington, Tuesday, July 28, 2015, on the Obama administration's case for the Iran Nuclear Agreement. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
From left, the House Foreign Affairs Committee's ranking member Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y, Secretary of State John Kerry, Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., and Treasury Secretary of Treasury Jacob Lew, arrive on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 28, 2015, for the committee's hearing on the Iran Nuclear Agreement. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
FILE - In this March 25, 2015 file photo, Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y. speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
UNITED STATES - JULY 15: Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., leaves a meeting with House Democrats in the Capitol Visitor Center that featured a visit by Vice President Joe Biden, July 15, 2015. Biden was on the Hill to brief members on the nuclear deal with Iran. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 22: Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., conducts a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center to introduce the Democracy Task Force that will help reduce the influence of money in politics and provide reforms to bring transparency to campaign finance and election laws, April 22, 2015. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 3: Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., speaks with Roll Call in his office in the Rayburn House Office Building on Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, joined at right by Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, discusses the unfinished work of Congress and the struggle for Republican and Democratic budget negotiators to reach a compromise, at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., ranking member of the House subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, questions US Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 8, 2014.(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been pushing lawmakers to oppose the nuclear agreement, which he considers a threat to his country's survival. Some pro-Israel groups have also been spending millions of dollars on an advertising campaign to push members of Congress to vote no.

Obama has been engaged in his own lobbying effort, including a combative speech on Wednesday in which he said abandoning the agreement would open up the prospect of war.

Speaking at a news conference on a visit to the Vietnamese capital Hanoi, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who negotiated the deal on the U.S. side, said he respected Schumer and Engel but added that "rejection is not a policy for the future."

"It does not offer any alterative and many people in arms control and others have actually pointed that out. While I completely respect everybody's individual right to make a choice, I obviously disagree with the choice made," he said.

The U.S. Congress has until Sept. 17 to consider a resolution of disapproval of the Iran deal, which would eliminate Obama's ability to waive all sanctions on Iran imposed by the U.S. Congress, a key component of the agreement.

Lawmakers will begin debating whether to reject the deal when they return from their August recess on Sept. 8.

Schumer insisted he was not influenced by party or politics and had not been pressured.

"Advocates on both sides have strong cases for their point of view that cannot simply be dismissed. This has made evaluating the agreement a difficult and deliberate endeavor, and 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.

Obama has promised a veto if the resolution is passed by the House and Senate.

Republicans would need at least 13 Democrats in the Senate and 44 in the House to vote against Obama to muster the two-thirds majorities in both chambers needed to override a veto. So, while Thursday's announcements are a blow to the president, opponents of the deal still face an uphill battle to enact a disapproval resolution.

OTHER DEMOCRATS IN FAVOR

Several Democrats in both the House and Senate have already come out in favor of the nuclear deal, including Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader. Schumer's colleague from New York, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, announced her support on Thursday.

A handful of House Democrats in addition to Engel have said they oppose the deal, including Representative Steve Israel, a member of the chamber's Democratic leadership.

Schumer said lawmakers would come to their own conclusions but he would try to persuade other senators to vote against the Iran deal. Schumer is currently the number three Democrat in the Senate and is in line to succeed Harry Reid as the party's leader in the chamber when Reid retires in early 2017.

A congressional aide said Engel would vote for a resolution of disapproval and also vote to override an Obama veto if the resolution passed Congress. However, Engel did not say he would lobby against the deal among other lawmakers.

Schumer's opposition was first reported by the Huffington Post. He said in his statement he opposed the nuclear deal because he believed Iran would not change and that the deal would let it eliminate sanctions while retaining "nuclear and non-nuclear power."

"Better to keep U.S. sanctions in place, strengthen them, enforce secondary sanctions on other nations, and pursue the hard-trodden path of diplomacy once more, difficult as it may be," Schumer said.

The White House had no immediate comment on Schumer's announcement, which was distributed by the Senate Republican leadership after it was released by his office.

The liberal group MoveOn.org said its 8 million members would organize a "donor strike" to withhold campaign contributions from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee as well as "any Democratic candidate who succeeds in undermining the president's diplomacy with Iran."

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan in Washington and David Brunnstrom in Hanoi; Editing by Ralph Boulton)

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