New York Senator Chuck Schumer, an influential U.S. Democrat who’s poised to assume leadership of his party in the Senate, will oppose President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, he announced on Thursday evening.
“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,” Sen. Schumer wrote in a 1,600-word post on the website Medium.
“I will vote to disapprove the agreement, not because I believe war is a viable or desirable option, nor to challenge the path of diplomacy,” he added later. “It is because I believe Iran will not change, and under this agreement it will be able to achieve its dual goals of eliminating sanctions while ultimately retaining its nuclear and non-nuclear power.”
Sen. Schumer’s thinking on the deal has been closely watched since the plan to loosen sanctions on Tehran in exchange for access to potential nuclear sites was announced on July 14.
He said in public comments over the past several weeks he was going through the deal with a “fine-tooth comb” and received briefings from top administration officials to digest the deal’s inner workings.
Sen. Schumer’s announcement Thursday came after two Democratic colleagues — fellow New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire — both said they would back the agreement, which lawmakers have until mid-September to decide upon.
In the U.S. House of Representatives, at least five Democrats came out in support of the plan on Wednesday following a major speech by Obama defending it.
But a senior House Democrat also came out in opposition Thursday night.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel, Sen. Schumer’s New York colleague, also officially announced he was against the deal, despite a one-on-one meeting with Obama last week.
Sen. Schumer had been eyed as a key vote, both for his prominence as the top Jewish Democrat in Congress and the expectation that he’ll become the Democratic leader in the Senate when Minority Leader Harry Reid retires at the end of his term in 2016.
After his review, he wrote Thursday that worrisome elements of the deal — including the provisions concerning inspections and the formula for sanctions to “snap back” if the regime in Iran violates its side of the agreement — led him to his decision.
And he argued sanctions relief for Tehran would only serve to empower a hardline regime.
“To me, the very real risk that Iran will not moderate and will, instead, use the agreement to pursue its nefarious goals is too great,” he said.