Since Iran and world powers struck a historic nuclear deal in July, all eyes have fallen on Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democrat from New York. Last Thursday, the notoriously camera-hungry Schumer announced his opposition in a lengthy online statement. That he would become the first and only Senator, so far, to break with his party and his president didn’t come as a surprise: Schumer has long approached the Middle East with what can properly be called an unreconstructed pro-Israel hawkishness.
That hawkishness permeated Schumer’s statement; it proclaimed a thoughtful deliberation, gave plaudits to the Obama administration for its hard work, then proceeded to throw up the standard right-wing pro-Israel talking points against the nuclear deal. “Schumer’s missive came across a bit like your crazy uncle who gets his opinions from talk radio and wants to set you straight at Thanksgiving,” wrote the nonproliferation expert Jeffery Lewis in Foreign Policy, before dismantling Schumer’s technical objections. (Other nuclear experts, too, have questioned Schumer’s points against the deal.)
The timing of Schumer’s announcement reportedly riled the White House: Coming as it did just before Congress’s August recess, Schumer’s rejection of the deal shifts the attention away from himself and onto other undecided members, despite several prominent Democrats recently coming out in favor of the accord. That’s why, though Schumer’s objection to the deal was not unexpected, it nonetheless constituted a major development; in part for the prospects of the nuclear deal itself and in part for what his dead-end Middle East hawkishness means for the future of the Democratic Party—which Schumer hopes to lead in the upper chamber when Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (NV) retires this winter.
Accordingly, Republican hawks are heartened on both counts. “I hope we see the re-emergence of Joe Lieberman Democrats,” said GOP presidential hopeful Senator Ted Cruz (TX), referring to the neoconservative former Connecticut senator whose Iraq war vote cost him a Democratic primary—and a spot in the party—in 2006. “They have been an endangered species in the United States Congress, and it is my hope that with Senator Schumer coming out that he will take a significant role leading and encouraging his fellow Democrats to stand together.”