Toomey opposes Obama's Iran nuke deal as Senate votes line up in support
Democrats in Washington lined up votes Tuesday to protect the president's Iran nuclear accord from a disapproval resolution in the Senate, as U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey railed against the plan in Squirrel Hill — the heart of Western Pennsylvania's Jewish community.
“It will make America and the rest of the civilized world less safe,” Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley, told more than 50 people at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh.
Toomey said the deal “doesn't block Iran's path to nuclear weapons. It paves that path,” adding the 10-year agreement allows Iran to keep industrial-scale uranium enrichment capabilities that he said aren't necessary for producing electricity.
In addition to potentially spurring proliferation of nuclear weapons in an unstable Middle East and threatening Israel's security, Toomey said, “If Iran is able to inflict harm on Americans, it will inflict harm on Americans.”
Toomey's backdrop — a neighborhood where a large percentage of residents are Jewish — is sharply divided over the issue, said Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh spokesman Adam Hertzman.
“This is without a doubt one of the most divisive debates that the Jewish community has seen in at least a couple of years,” Hertzman said, noting supporters of the Iran deal complained about Toomey's appearance just as detractors blasted the group for hosting a live webcast last month with President Obama.
The agreement struck in July by Iran, the United States, China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany would provide Iran hundreds of billions of dollars in relief from international sanctions in exchange for a decade of constraints on its nuclear program. The deal aims to keep Iran at least a year away from producing enough nuclear material for a weapon.
Hertzman said the federation hasn't taken a position, other than to say that Iran should not be able to acquire a nuclear weapon.
“Iran has stated their dedication to eradicate the state of Israel, to wipe it off the map,” Hertzman said. “There has been a lot of disagreement about whether this deal helps or hurts the goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
“Whatever the U.S. does, they should do it within the context of what's best for Israel. They are our best ally in the region.”
During his morning visit, Toomey said he was confident there would be enough votes to send a resolution opposing the deal to Obama.
By morning's end, however, Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Gary Peters of Michigan announced they would support the deal, giving Democrats enough votes to block passage of the resolution.
Toomey said the proposed disapproval resolution needed at least 60 votes to pass in the 100-seat chamber. He conceded there might not be enough votes to override a likely Obama veto but said, “We don't have to give up hope yet.”
Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia gave the deal's foes cause for optimism when he announced his opposition, a surprise “no” vote from a moderate Democrat who had sounded like he favored the pact.
But support from the three others brought the number of senators on record favoring the deal to 41. Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington said Tuesday evening she would back the deal, pushing the number to 42.
Toomey could not be reached for comment on the developments in Washington, where lawmakers returned Tuesday from their five-week summer recess.
“This is a huge win for the president. This (nuclear deal) is his legacy of the second term,” said Philip Harold, political science professor at Robert Morris University in Moon.
Supporters of the deal stopped short of declaring victory because it remains uncertain whether all 42 Democratic and independent senators would support a filibuster to block a final vote on the disapproval resolution. Harold predicted they would.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the administration would prefer the Senate block the disapproval resolution before it reaches Obama's desk.
The Associated Press contributed. Tom Fontaine is a Trib Total Media staff writer.