Chuck Schumer tries to have it both ways

Let’s get this out of the way: unless he actively whips votes against the Iran deal among Senate Democrats, Chuck Schumer’s decision to vote against the Iran deal is probably not going to derail the deal. I realize this would come as a major blow to The New York Times, whose breathless “Shaking Democratic Firewall” headline can sit right alongside its consistently garbage reporting on the negotiations in the Sloppily Biased Journalism Hall of Fame, but the bottom line is that Schumer was almost certainly going to be a “no” vote on this or any other Iran deal. Schumer gets big money from pro-Israel groups, many of which are aligned against the deal and have been pushing him to oppose it, his constituent base in New York City is probably opposed to the deal, and, look, the guy has been a pretty consistent anti-Iran vote for a while now.

Even with Schumer voting against the deal, however, the prospects for overriding an Obama veto are slim at best. In fact, you can make a case (like this one) that deal opponents might not even be able to get to 60 votes on a resolution to reject the deal, in order to get around a filibuster, let alone getting to 67 votes to override a veto. And in all the rush to declare the deal on thin ice because of Schumer, people seem to be ignoring the fact that there’s actually one Republican, Jeff Flake of Arizona, who may yet vote for the deal, which would make it even harder for opponents to kill it.

Where Schumer’s vote would have mattered is in the infinitesimal chance that he had decided to vote for the deal, in which case any drama about the final vote would have likely been over. But his opposition was expected, and the White House is reportedly more angry over the timing of his announcement, so early in the review period, than with his actual vote. Vox says that Schumer is “the only Democrat who could kill the Iran deal,” but it’s not even clear that that much is true, and if it is true it’s only true insofar as Schumer is prepared to really campaign against it. He’s offered no signal that he will, and his statement on Medium actually suggests that he will not.

The really optimistic view of Schumer’s announcement is that it means there are enough firm votes for the deal in the Senate Democratic caucus to sustain a veto, or otherwise Schumer wouldn’t have announced his opposition yet. I think that’s a little premature, but it would kind of be par for the course for Chuck Schumer, who’s made a pretty nifty career for himself out of playing transactional politics with his big money donors while doing it in such a way as to dodge the serious ramifications of any controversial positions he might have to take. So he does things like declaring healthcare reform “a mistake” four years after the fact, when he can get big props from his mostly upper and middle class white constituency that never gave a shit about helping poor people get medical care because, hey, they already had their health insurance, without materially affecting healthcare reform itself. And he can vote for the Dodd-Frank financial regulation package, keeping him in good stead with Democratic voters, while working behind the scenes to delay and/or weaken its provisions, which is what his close Wall Street pals/financiers want from him.

If his Iran vote is the thing that costs Chuck Schumer his future gig as the leader of the Democratic caucus in the Senate (highly unlikely), then so be it. But I don’t think he’s going to actually prevent the deal from going through.

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