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3 More Senators Back Iran Deal, Giving White House Added Cushion

WASHINGTON — Three Democratic senators announced on Tuesday that they would back President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, bringing to 41 the total number of Senate supporters as critics in Congress prepared to open a historic debate on the accord.

With the support of the three senators — Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Gary Peters of Michigan and Ron Wyden of Oregon — the White House gained additional assurance that a presidential veto of legislation opposing the deal would be sustained.

While having 41 votes is typically sufficient to block a vote on complex legislation in the Senate, where 60 votes are needed to overcome a filibuster, it was still not clear that the White House would be able to prevent passage of a resolution opposing the accord, which would spare Mr. Obama from having to exercise his veto authority.

For all the drama leading up to this week’s debate, the other five world powers who helped negotiate the agreement — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — have made clear they have no desire to return to the bargaining table, and are likely to ease sanctions against Iran and put the agreement in place regardless of the view ultimately expressed by Congress.

Several Democratic lawmakers have cited this reality as a central reason for supporting the accord, so that the United States does not cede its leadership role on the agreement and will remain in a strong position to oversee implementation and enforcement.

So far, Republicans have remained united in their opposition to the nuclear agreement, with many saying they are convinced that Iran will not live up to its end of the bargain. They are also adamant that Mr. Obama and the Democrats will bear responsibility for the accord, in the event of any breach.

Many Democrats have been torn, particularly in the face of strong opposition by Israel and by some powerful Jewish-American lobbying groups.

On Tuesday, Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia became the fourth Senate Democrat to publicly oppose the agreement, joining Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Chuck Schumer of New York.

Interactive Feature | The Iran Deal in 200 Words A short overview of highlights from the Iran nuclear pact.

Mr. Manchin, who announced his decision in a conference call with journalists from his home state, said that he was concerned not only with stopping Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, but also with addressing Iran’s support of terrorist organizations. He said the deal failed to do that.

“I have always believed that to truly be a superpower, you must engage in super-diplomacy,” Mr. Manchin said in a statement. “But as I struggled with this decision, I could not ignore the fact that Iran, the country that will benefit most from sanctions being lifted, refuses to change its 36-year history of sponsoring terrorism.”

By not penalizing Iran, Mr. Manchin said, President Obama’s accord “would reward Iran’s 36 years of deplorable behavior and do nothing to prevent its destructive activities.”

“In fact, he added, “even during the negotiating process, it has continued to hold four Americans hostage, support terrorism around the world, breed anti-American sentiment and acquire arms from Russia.”

Overall, most Democrats have stood with the president. And in the House, where the Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi of California, has provided a bulwark of support against criticism of the deal, two new votes in favor of the accord were announced on Tuesday: William Lacy Clay of Missouri and Bill Pascrell Jr. of New Jersey.

In the event that legislation disapproving the deal wins passage and President Obama is forced to veto it, the House will be first to vote on an override, which requires the support of two-thirds of the chamber. House Democrats say they are confident they will have votes to sustain a veto. In the Senate, where a two-thirds vote is also required, Obama now appears to easily have enough votes to do the same.

The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has urged Democrats not to resort to blocking tactics and to allow an up-or-down majority vote on the disapproval resolution, which would certainly pass with Republican support.

The Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said at a speech in Washington that Mr. Obama would have the support to put the Iran accord in place.

Calling the Iran issue “a debate that has ignited passions from Tehran to Tel Aviv, from Beijing to Berlin, and from coast to coast across the United States,” Mr. Reid said Mr. Obama’s agreement was “the best pathway to peace and security for America, Israel and our partners,” according to the prepared text of his remarks to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“Today I am gratified to say to my fellow Americans, our negotiating partners, and our allies around the world: This agreement will stand. America will uphold its commitment and we will seize this opportunity to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon,” Mr. Reid said.

In the Senate, there was some procedural wrangling over how many votes would be required to pass the resolution disapproving the Iran deal, with one Democrat, Tim Kaine of Virginia, insisting there was a prior agreement that it would take a supermajority of at least 60 senators, not just a simple majority.

Mr. Reid did not say that there was such an agreement or requirement, but challenged Mr. McConnell to put the resolution to such a test, noting that the Republican leader has frequently said that all important measures in the Senate should require 60 votes for approval. That position was one Mr. McConnell often espoused when Republicans were the minority party in the Senate.

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(via NY Times)