Mere weeks before the Senate votes on President Barack Obama’s controversial nuclear deal with Iran, Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 remains one of 10 remaining Democrats in the Senate undecided on the deal.
Other than Blumenthal, all six other members of Connecticut’s Washington delegation, including Sen. Chris Murphy, have spoken out in favor of the deal. Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski joined them Wednesday, enabling Obama to secure the 34 votes needed to ensure that a resolution against the deal does not withstand a veto.
Blumenthal told the News on Monday, before the deal was safe, that he would be announcing his decision within several weeks. He added that he was still asking the Obama administration questions about the issues of verification and enforcement, the strength of the agreement after 10 to 15 years and other concerns regarding the use and amount of money flowing through Iran as a result of lifting sanctions.
“This vote for me will be of conscience and conviction … I have been speaking to diplomatic and scientific experts, administration officials as well as opponents, and listening to the people of Connecticut,” Blumenthal said. “And I’m going to analyze the potential defects and downsides of this agreement and assess whether there is a better alternative that is possible and feasible.”
Gary Rose, chairman of the Department of Government and Politics at Sacred Heart University, said these 34 votes give Blumenthal some leeway, opening up the option of voting against the deal in order to placate constituents — especially his Jewish ones — even if Blumenthal himself is personally in support of it.
Other Jewish Democrats who back the plan, including New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler, have faced severe backlash from their peers, prompting other Jewish members of the House and Senate to release statements on their behalf, according to a New York Times report from last week.
“It wasn’t that [Blumenthal] was on the fence figuring it out,” Rose said. “I think he was waiting out the vote.”
Political Science Professor Jolyon Howorth, who teaches seminars on U.S. relations with the Middle East and Europe, said the choice that Blumenthal faces is not so much between offending pro-Israel lobbyists and constituents versus upsetting the president and their party — but rather between the deal and a hypothetical alternative. Howorth added that the alternative would be no deal, allowing Iran complete freedom on the nuclear front.
Blumenthal’s silence has done little to quell proponents and opponents of the agreement from urging the senator to vote one way or the other.
Last Wednesday, members of Move On, a national liberal activist organization advocating for the deal, met with Blumenthal outside of his office in Hartford. The certainty of the deal’s implementation has not changed Move On’s tactics in placing pressure on undecided senators, according to the group’s electoral field director Matt Blizek.
Supporters of Move On will be protesting in Stamford today, Blizek added. The “SchumerMobile,” a mobile billboard that has spent the past couple of days in New York calling out Sen. Chuck Schumer for opposing the deal, will spend the day in Connecticut in hopes of encouraging Blumenthal to vote in favor of the agreement.
Several ads against the agreement, funded by special interest groups such as the American Security Initiative and Citizens for a Nuclear-Free Iran, have also run in the state, according to CT News Junkie.
Economist and conservative radio talk show host Larry Kudlow also announced on his show last week that, should Blumenthal vote in favor of the deal, Kudlow himself would run against Blumenthal, who is up for reelection in 2016.
Congress is currently scheduled to vote on the deal by Sept. 17.