By Ron Kampeas
(JTA) — There are 28 Jewish members of Congress: 26 Democrats, one independent who caucuses with the Democrats and one Republican. Nine of them are senators and 19 are representatives.
Nine back the Iran deal, seven oppose it and 12 are undecided.
The positions of Jewish lawmakers are being watched as Congress decides whether to reject the July 14 agreement between Iran and world powers. The vote, to be held by the end of September, is expected to go against the deal. The real question is: Will opponents manage two-thirds majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate to override President Barack Obama’s promised veto of a rejection?
Counting Jewish lawmakers, as distinct from their colleagues, can be controversial. Some ask, why not just track overall whip counts? Are you counting African-American lawmakers? The answers are, respectively: Overall whip counts are being covered closely, and yes, blacks, too.
But doesn’t singling out Jews feed into Jewish loyalty and cabal stereotypes?
The answer to this one: Yes, it unfortunately does. But it should be done anyway.
Bigotry and the fear of it cannot dictate news coverage. Identity politics is a fact of American life. There is a Congressional Black Caucus, a Congressional Hispanic Caucus and a Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. Each of these caucuses has a figurative “lobby us” shingle on its door.
No single member of Congress can expect to be immersed in every issue coming before the world’s most powerful and influential legislature. Lawmakers naturally look to colleagues who are closest to an issue for guidance.
What’s up on immigration? Few lawmakers — few Democrats at least — would pronounce without first taking the temperature of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Police-black relations? Check in with the Congressional Black Caucus. Israel? There’s the congressional Jewish caucus.
Except there isn’t. Or there is, kind of. Jewish lawmakers meet, they consult, their staffs check in with one another. Every four years, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee assembles a “Breakfast with Mishpocha” at political conventions.
But there is no official caucus. It is said that Jewish lawmakers will never formally organize precisely because of anxieties over the antisemitic stereotypes cited here: dual loyalties and cabals.
And yet their non-caucus functions just like the other caucuses — as the front door of Congress for interests representing issues that tend to preoccupy Jews more than other Americans. So when AIPAC needs a Senate sponsor for an enhanced ally bill, it makes sense to sign on Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., in no small part because she is Jewish. And when Boxer scolded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for seeming to interfere in the last U.S. presidential election, she drew headlines, in no small part because she is Jewish.
When political scientists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s “ferkakte” theory about the pro-Israel lobby pushing the Iraq war started to gain traction in 2007, an arrow through its heart was a letter signed by 16 Jewish lawmakers saying that no, AIPAC had never lobbied them to support the war. It was understood that AIPAC lobbies Jewish lawmakers first; so if AIPAC had not lobbied Jewish lawmakers on the Iraq War, it had lobbied no one on the Iraq War.
In 2015, AIPAC is very much in the lead lobbying against the Iran deal, and its focus has been on Jewish lawmakers.
Dozens of members of Congress have come out against the Iran deal, yet AIPAC issued a statement thanking only one, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. Schumer is of course key partly because he is a leading Democrat, and with Republicans more or less unified against the deal, the battleground for the deal is Democrats.
But Schumer is also key because he is Jewish, and because, playing on his last name, he has called himself a “shomer [‘guardian’] for Israel.” It goes both ways: J Street, in listing lawmakers who agree with its support for the deal, identified two lawmakers as Jewish: Reps. Sander Levin, D-Mich., and Adam Schiff, D-Calif.
The Obama administration has focused with intensity equal to AIPAC’s on Jewish lawmakers, with Obama meeting in special sessions with the caucus.
“This is a decision that weighs heavily on all members of Congress — particularly on Jewish members,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., wrote on August 5 in a JTA op-rd about the Iran deal.
One day in a perfect world, or at least a perfect United States, an ambitious intern at the Congressional Jewish Caucus Leadership Institute will compile a whip list like this, and reporters will merely link to it. Until then, JTA is doing the work.
BACKING THE DEAL
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., elected 1992, retiring next year. Democratic chief deputy whip, member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Statement: “The bottom line is that Iran is a bad actor and a nuclear-armed Iran would make the world a much more dangerous place – and that is why Congress should unite behind this deal to block Iran’s path to a bomb.” (Aug. 4)
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., elected 1992. Ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. From her congressional website’s foreign policy page: “Senator Feinstein strongly believes that the only way to peacefully resolve the international community’s dispute with Iran over its nuclear program is through diplomacy. She supports the nuclear agreement between the P5 +1 (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China and Russia) and Iran.”
Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., elected 2008. CNN Op-Ed: “Many have expressed reservations about the deal, and I share some of those reservations. It isn’t a perfect agreement. But it is a strong one. This agreement is, in my opinion, the most effective, realistic way to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon anytime in the next 15 years.” (Aug. 13)
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., elected 2006. Caucuses with Democrats, running for president. From the CBS’s “Face the Nation”: “It’s so easy to be critical of an agreement which is not perfect. But the United States has to negotiate with, you know, other countries. We have to negotiate with Iran. And the alternative of not reaching an agreement, you know what it is? It’s war. Do we really want another war, a war with Iran? An asymmetrical warfare that will take place all over this world, threatening American troops. So I think we go as far as we possibly can in trying to give peace a chance, if you like. Trying to see if this agreement will work. And I will support it.” (Aug. 7)
Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, appointed 2012, elected 2014. Statement: “This agreement should not be compared to an imaginary deal where Iran rolled over, and eliminated all its centrifuges and all peaceful nuclear energy generation. That was never seriously on the table. It should be compared to its real world alternative — an unraveling of the international sanctions, Iran moving ever faster towards the bomb, and our country left with few choices other than another war in the Middle East.” (Aug. 10)
Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., elected 1982. Ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, longest serving Jewish member of Congress. Statement: “I along with my brother and late sister when we were in our teens experienced with our parents great personal joy when President Truman announced U.S. recognition of Israel. It was something that we could take hold of amidst the unfolding horrors of the years before. Israel’s security has and always will be of critical importance to me and our country. I believe that Israel, the region, and the world are far more secure if Iran does not move toward possession of a nuclear weapon. I believe the Agreement is the best way to achieve that.” (July 28)
Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., elected 1998. Democratic deputy chief whip. Statement: “This agreement will not solve every problem – and I stand with the President in his pledge to do even more to protect Israel’s security and combat ISIS. But this deal will prevent Iran from posing the most serious problem – a nuclear threat. Now that our negotiators have succeeded, I stand ready to make sure this agreement moves forward.” (July 14)
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., elected 2000. Ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. Statement: “The Iranian people will one day throw off the shackles of their repressive regime, and I hope that this deal will empower those who wish to reform Iranian governance and behavior. The fifteen years or more this agreement provides will give us the time to test that proposition, without Iran developing the bomb and without the necessity of protracted military action. Then, as now, if Iran is determined to go nuclear, there is only one way to stop it and that is by the use of force. But then at least, the American people and others around the world will recognize that we did everything possible to avoid war.” (Aug. 3)
Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., elected 2006. Statement: “This historic agreement is a victory for American diplomacy and international security. We now have a clear plan to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, which ensures a safer world and a more stable Middle East. As President Obama stated this morning, this agreement is not built on trust — it is built on verification.” (July 14)
OPPOSING THE DEAL
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., elected 1998. A leading contender for Democratic leadership in the Senate when Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the minority leader, retires next year. Statement: “Ultimately, in my view, whether one supports or opposes the resolution of disapproval depends on how one thinks Iran will behave under this agreement. If one thinks Iran will moderate, that contact with the West and a decrease in economic and political isolation will soften Iran’s hardline positions, one should approve the agreement. After all, a moderate Iran is less likely to exploit holes in the inspection and sanctions regime, is less likely to seek to become a threshold nuclear power after ten years, and is more likely to use its newfound resources for domestic growth, not international adventurism. But if one feels that Iranian leaders will not moderate and their unstated but very real goal is to get relief from the onerous sanctions, while still retaining their nuclear ambitions and their ability to increase belligerent activities in the Middle East and elsewhere, then one should conclude that it would be better not to approve this agreement.” (Aug. 6)
Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., elected 2006. Ranking Democrat on the Middle East subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Op-Ed in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: “There are different predictions about what will happen if Congress rejects this deal. But the consequences of approving it aren’t up for debate. Opening Iran up to foreign investment, increasing its oil exports, and unfreezing over $100 billion in assets means more money for Hamas for building terror tunnels in Gaza, more weapons for Hezbollah in Lebanon, more slaughter in Syria, and more violence worldwide. After a decade in public life working to stop Iran from ever acquiring nuclear weapons, I cannot support a deal giving Iran billions of dollars in sanctions relief – in return for letting it maintain an advanced nuclear program and the infrastructure of a threshold nuclear state.” (Aug. 4)
Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., elected 1988. Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Statement: “At the outset, I was troubled that Iran was not asked to stop enriching despite the fact that there were several separate UN Security Council resolutions compelling them to do so. I have raised questions and concerns throughout the negotiating phase and review period. The answers I’ve received simply don’t convince me that this deal will keep a nuclear weapon out of Iran’s hands, and may in fact strengthen Iran’s position as a destabilizing and destructive influence across the Middle East.” (Aug. 6)
Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., elected 2000. Until last year, chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Interview with Newsday: “I tried very hard to get to ‘yes.’ But at the end of the day, despite some positive elements in the deal, the totality compelled me to oppose it.” (Aug. 4)
Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., elected 1988. Ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. Statement: “This agreement will leave the international community with limited options in 15 years to prevent nuclear breakout in Iran, which will be an internationally-recognized nuclear threshold state, capable of producing highly enriched uranium. I am greatly concerned that the agreement lacks a crystal clear statement that the international community reserves the right to take all military, economic, and diplomatic measures necessary during the course of the deal and beyond to deter Iran from ever developing a nuclear weapon.” (Aug. 4)
Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., elected 1996. Ranking Democrat on terrorism and nonproliferation subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Statement: “This Agreement is the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. It contains the good and the bad in the first year, and gets ugly in the years thereafter. The Good: Iran gives up 97% of its stockpile of enriched uranium and decommissions 2/3 of its existing centrifuges. The Bad: Iran gets access to at least $56 billion of its own currently-frozen funds, and free access to the international oil markets. The Ugly: In 15 years or less, Iran is permitted to have an unlimited quantity of centrifuges of unlimited quality, as well as heavy water reactors and reprocessing facilities. I might be willing to accept the good with the bad during the first year of the Agreement. But we must force modifications of the Agreement, and extensions of its nuclear restrictions, before it gets ugly.” (Aug. 7)
Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., elected 2014. The only Jewish Republican in Congress, member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Op-Ed in the Washington Times: “The irony of the president’s capitulation is that this bad deal will pave the path to more instability in the Middle East, not less. The Iranians were at the table desperate for sanctions relief. They were not there as freedom-loving, good citizens of the world. The Iranians were not at the table because they fear the military option. The leverage was sanctions relief. That brought the Iranians to the table, which is proof the sanctions were working. With a strong hand, the United States must negotiate a better deal. The American public must reject this deal. The Obama administration must be forced to reverse course. America’s hand at the negotiating table must be strengthened.” (July 19)
NOT YET DECLARED
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., elected 2010. Ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Statement: “This agreement must be airtight, comprehensive and enduring – and, perhaps most importantly, strictly verifiable and enforceable. While our common hope may be that diplomacy has succeeded in barring an Iranian path to nuclear weapons capability, Congress must apply exacting standards and strict scrutiny, especially given Iran’s history of deceit and international law violations.”
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., elected 2006. Ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. With the committee’s chairman, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., crafted legislation that gave Congress 60 days to consider whether to reject the deal. Statement: “There is no trust when it comes to Iran. In our deliberations we need to ensure the negotiations resulted in a comprehensive, long-lasting, and verifiable outcome that also provides for snap-back of sanctions should Iran deviate from its commitments.” (July 14) On July 16, Cardin and Corker urged President Barack Obama not to advance U.N. Security Council consideration of the Iran deal until Congress had finished deliberating. The United States advanced the deal, and the Security Council unanimously approved it.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., elected 1996. Ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, member of the Intelligence Committee. Statement: “I said all along I was skeptical that Iran’s leaders would agree to dismantle their nuclear weapons program and I have questions about whether this agreement accomplishes that, particularly in light of Iran’s history on this issue. However, I will use my seat on the Senate Intelligence Committee to thoroughly review the details. An agreement with such serious consequences for U.S. security must be subject to rigorous oversight before any decisions are made.” (July 14)
Rep. David Cicilinne, D-R.I., elected 2010. Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Statement: “This morning’s announcement that negotiators have reached an agreement intended to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon is a very significant development. It’s important that Congress take the next 60 days to carefully review all of the terms of this agreement before deciding whether it accomplishes its objective of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran.” (July 14)
Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., elected 2006. Statement: “Secretary Kerry and all of the negotiators deserve credit for their hard work leading to this historic, comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran, and Congress should give the agreement a fair, unbiased, and objective review. I look forward to thoroughly examining the agreement to ensure that it effectively cuts off Iran’s path to nuclear weapons and will keep America and our allies, especially Israel, safe. I also look forward to discussing the deal with the intelligence community, my colleagues, and my constituents before moving forward.” (July 14)
Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif., elected 2000. Statement to Breitbart News: Undecided. (Aug. 15)
Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., elected 2008, unseated 2010, reelected 2012. Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, running for Senate. Statement: “Having reviewed this agreement, there are three areas that concern me: First, I’m concerned that the lifting of economic sanctions will not stop Iran from continuing to be a sponsor of global terrorism. In fact, that support would now be well financed by an increase in its oil revenues. Second, I’m concerned that Iran will continue its missile program, which would help it develop a missile directed against the United States. Third, I’m concerned that this is just a pause in Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and not an end to it.” (July 14)
Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., elected 2012. Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Statement: “In June, I made a statement urging vigilance ahead of the upcoming nuclear agreement deadline, outlining the following five key components that should be included in any final deal to ensure the agreement verifiably prevents all Iranian pathways to a bomb: Robust and intrusive inspections; Phased sanctions relief that comes only as a result of Iranian compliance; Dismantlement of key nuclear infrastructure; Disclosure of possible military dimensions of the program; and a long timeline that gives the international community confidence that it can hold Iran accountable. I plan to evaluate the proposed agreement using these standards.” (July 14)
Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif., elected 2012. Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Statement: “I applaud Secretary Kerry and am encouraged by the P5+1 agreement with Iran as a possibly historic move toward peace and stability in the Persian Gulf region. The negotiators have done their job, now it is time for Congress to do ours. I supported the Administration framework that included rigorous inspections, snapbacks on the sanctions, and a goal of blocking Iran from a pathway to nuclear weapons. I now look forward to reviewing the full agreement in detail to determine if the agreement is consistent with the framework.” (July 14)
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., elected 1992. Op-Ed for JTA: “Parts of this agreement are good and parts are bad; that is the reality of the decision we face. Congress must weigh all the alternative scenarios to determine what is achievable, what is preferable and what action most likely will lead to the outcome we all want. My colleagues and I must ask the right questions, without any certainty that there are indisputable or unanimously agreed-upon right answers. We must put aside the demagoguery and political pressures to make a decision based on a clear and careful analysis.”
Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., elected 2008. Speaking at a town hall meeting in Fort Collins, Colorado, reported by the Coloradoan: “There’s a lot of steps where, if they tried to weaponize (nuclear materials), they’d be caught. On the negative side of things, the regime supports terrorism and $50 billion in sanctions will be unlocked.” (Aug. 8)
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., elected 2004. Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, member of the foreign operations subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. Initiated in her freshman term legislation that created Jewish Heritage Month. Does not have a statement on her congressional website, but has conveyed in interviews the pressures on her as a top Democrat and one of the Jewish caucus’s most visible members. On CNN after Schumer announced he opposed the Iran deal: “I know Chuck’s decision was based on what he personally concluded was the most likely way of preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. And that’s the choice I have to make after I go home and talk to my constituents as well. But I think this is not black and white. It’s not a no-brainer … it’s troubling and difficult for the deal to lose a prominent senator like Chuck Schumer. But it’s absolutely completely still possible, and probably likely that this is a deal that will go through. You know, ultimately, when the Republicans send a resolution of disapproval, which is almost for sure to happen because they have the majority in both chambers, the president is going to veto it. I do not believe at the end of the day that Republicans will have the votes to override his veto.” (Aug. 7)
On Aug. 14, the Tampa Bay Times reported that Wasserman Schultz “plans on meeting with rabbis, community organizers, business owners and elected officials.” She has received 200 calls and emails. “It tilts toward people asking her to vote against it rather than for it but of the people contacting us, both sides are pretty vocal in their support or opposition,” her spokesman, Sean Bartlett, told the newspaper.
CAP: Barbara Boxer speaking at a news conference in Washington, D.C., with Sen. Richard Blumenthal in the background, Aug. 3, 2015. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)