With Maryland Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski’s announcement on Wednesday that she supports President Obama’s nuclear accord with Iran, the last ray of hope for opponents of the deal to kill it via congressional disapproval seemed to go dim. Mikulski’s approval, bucking a relentless campaign by Israel lobby groups against the deal, raised to 34 the number of senators supporting the deal, enough to ensure that Obama’s promised veto of a deal-killing measure from the Hill can be sustained. That means the deal can be implemented—specifically, that legislative sanctions can be waived by the president—according to a compromise law drawn up by Senator Bob Corker, a Republican opponent of the accord, and Mikulski’s fellow Marylander Ben Cardin, a staunch supporter of Israel who’s still on the fence.
The Israel lobby, however, isn’t done. Several plays are at hand. The first sees intense pressure on the seven remaining undecided Democrats in the upper chamber in an effort to do little more than embarrass the president. If Obama can marshal four of them into voting against a resolution of disapproval of the deal, he can avoid having to veto an effort to knock down a signal foreign-policy achievement; a vote slated for next week on the resolution, despite the cries of congressional hawks, requires, as any other bill does, a 60-vote threshold to end debate. That won’t be a cakewalk—Cardin, who is under pressure even from his own rabbi, and Oregone’s Ron Wyden are all close to the Israel lobby and facing a flood of ads against the deal—but Obama got a boost on Thursday. New Jersey Senator Corey Booker, a close ally of right-wing pro-Israel figures, announced his tepid support for the deal. Mark Warner of Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota then piled on, bringing the total of senators in support of the deal to 37.
But opponents of the deal already have plans B, C, and D. Reports began floating around on Wednesday of efforts in Congress to pass a bill in tandem with the doomed-to-fail resolution of disapproval that would put onerous requirements on Obama’s implementation of the deal, and throw in a few poison pills for good measure. In addition, hawks in state legislatures and among Republicans on Capitol Hill itself are pressing to de facto reimpose full sanctions on Iran, through the so-called “non-nuclear” sanctions—those targeted at human-rights violations and terrorism—that the Obama administration had said from the get-go it would not lift as part of the accord. The fight to keep the historic nuke deal alive, in other words, is just getting started.