WASHINGTON — A key Democratic senator, Ben Cardin of Maryland, announced opposition to the Iran nuclear deal Friday, in a blow to the White House and a boost to opponents.
“This is a close call, but after a lengthy review, I will vote to disapprove the deal,” Cardin wrote in an opinion piece in the Washington Post. The agreement “legitimizes Iran’s nuclear program. After 10 to 15 years, it would leave Iran with the option to produce enough enriched fuel for a nuclear weapon in a short time,” he wrote.
Cardin is a crucial vote because is the top-ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee and the author of legislation providing for congressional review of the deal that aims to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from international economic sanctions. As a leading Jewish Democrat, he was under strong pressure from segments of the Jewish community to oppose the deal, which is ardently opposed by Israel.
Cardin’s announcement came moments after Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet announced that he would back the deal. Bennet, who is up for re-election next year in a battleground state, told The Denver Post the agreement is flawed but represents an important step toward the objectives of preventing Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon and avoiding war in the Middle East.
Together, the announcements raise suspense about the outcome of a disapproval resolution set for a vote next week in the Senate.
With Bennet’s support, backers are just three votes shy of the 41 they would need to block the resolution from passing. But Cardin’s opposition could be enough to prevent three more senators from coming on board. Only five have yet to announce where they stand: Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Gary Peters of Michigan.
Either way, the ultimate outcome is not in doubt. Even if the disapproval resolution passes, President Barack Obama will veto it and supporters have more than enough votes to sustain that veto.
Cardin’s announcement makes three Senate Democrats who oppose the deal. The others are Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Chuck Schumer of New York.