Two more Democrats announced support Tuesday for President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, putting the White House a single senator away from assuring it can prevent Congress from scuttling the agreement and leaving GOP leaders hoping to avoid an even bigger embarrassment of losing to a filibuster.
With about 10 Democrats still to decide, it’s a lock that at least one of them will back Mr. Obama, giving him the 34 votes needed to uphold his expected veto of a bill to halt the deal.
But if Democrats can muster 41 votes, they could sustain a filibuster, meaning the issue never even has to reach the president’s desk and instead dies in Congress, which would be a weak ending for what Republicans had hoped would be a bipartisan rebuke of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy.
The new supporters Tuesday were Sens. Christopher A. Coons of Delaware and Robert P. Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania, who said they’d studied the agreement closely and talked it over with experts and concluded that, warts and all, it would advance U.S. goals.
“It is the best option available to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” Mr. Casey said. “It places strict limitations on Iran’s nuclear program, requires robust monitoring and verification measures and grants relief only from nuclear sanctions in exchange for verified actions on Iran’s part.”
He said his support for the deal doesn’t mean he trusts Iran to follow through, and he insisted both Congress and the White House make clear that the U.S. remains intent on taking military action against Iran should the Islamic republic try to pursue nuclear weapons.
For his part, Mr. Coons said he’s spoken with top sanctions experts who say much of the rest of the world only reluctantly joined the U.S.-led effort to impose the crippling restrictions that brought Iran to the negotiating table. Those other countries expected a diplomatic solution.
Mr. Coons said rejecting the deal at hand could actually weaken Mr. Obama’s ability to keep a united front against Iran, and said he’s convinced the added inspections of Iran’s facilities envisioned in the deal, while not perfect, does advance the issue.
“In a very hard choice between either rejecting the agreement and taking on the uncertainty and risks of compelling a return to sanctions and negotiations or a path that accepts the positives of this deal and attempts to manage and minimize the short- and long-term consequences of its flaws, I choose the latter,” he said.
So far just two Democratic senators — Charles E. Schumer of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey — have announced their opposition to the deal.
Mr. Schumer, in line to be Senate Democrats’ next leader in 2017, has come under particularly withering fire from liberal advocacy groups who say he has betrayed the party by opposing Mr. Obama.
In the House, meanwhile, Democrats have rallied around Mr. Obama, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has said she will be able to keep enough troops in line to sustain a veto no matter what happens in the other chamber.
Under the terms of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which Congress passed and Mr. Obama signed earlier this year, the president is required to submit his deal to Capitol Hill, and lawmakers have 60 days to review it. If they pass a resolution of disapproval, Mr. Obama then gets a chance to veto it — and unless Congress overrides his veto, his agreement with Iran is preserved intact.
If a bill does go to Mr. Obama’s desk, it would give opponents of the agreement — including pro-Israeli lobbying efforts — a chance to try to sway some of the president’s backers ahead of the veto override. A filibuster, however, would mean a bill never even reaches the president for a veto, shutting down opponents altogether.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry has a major speech planned for Wednesday in Philadelphia to defend the deal, and Mr. Casey and Mr. Coons were thought to be key targets. Now, with support all but sewn up, the Obama administration is looking beyond the vote toward what’s next.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told the American Legion on Tuesday that he will preserve military options should Iran be deemed to backslide — and said the deal does nothing to constrain the U.S. in that regard.
“This is a good deal, because, once enforced, it will remove a critical source of risk and uncertainty in an important but tumultuous region,” Mr. Carter said. “While the deal puts limits on Iran, on our end, the deal places no limits whatsoever on our military, and our military option is real and will remain real.”