WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats delivered a major victory to President Obama on Thursday when they blocked a Republican resolution to reject a six-nation nuclear accord with Iran, ensuring that the landmark deal will take effect without a veto showdown between Congress and the White House.
A procedural vote fell short of the number needed to break a Democratic filibuster. It culminated hours of debate on the Senate floor and capped months of discord since the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China announced the agreement with Iran in July.
Debate over the accord divided Democrats between their loyalties to the president and their constituents, especially Jewish ones, animated the antiwar movement on the left and exposed the waning power of the Israeli lobbying force that spent millions to prevent the accord.
“Regardless of how one feels about the agreement,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, one of four Democrats to vote against the president, “fair-minded Americans should acknowledge the president’s strong achievements in combating and containing Iran.”
Graphic | Lawmakers Against the Iran Nuclear Deal Twenty-three Democratic lawmakers have said they will not support President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, joining their Republican colleagues in the House and the Senate.
Acknowledging the tortured decision he and other skeptical Democrats traveled, Mr. Schumer said, “I also have a great deal of respect for the careful thought and deliberation my colleagues went through,” adding, “I recognize for them, that this is a vote of conscience just as it is for me.”
Yet President Obama’s triumph in securing the international agreement — without the support of a single member of the party now in control of Congress — is refashioning the definition of victory for a waning presidency in an era of divided government.
While bipartisan victories tend to be those most celebrated outside Washington, in the current political climate, success by the president is now often measured more by the scope of the policy achieved than by any claim of sweeping consensus. And losing has its own evolving meaning. Republicans will use Mr. Obama’s triumphs — as they did with the health care law — as a means to attack Democrats in anticipation of next year’s election.
Mr. Obama may go down in history as a president whose single biggest foreign policy and domestic achievements were won with no Republican votes, a stark departure from his 2008 campaign that was fueled by the promise of uniting. As with the Iran accord, the health care law — passed exclusively with Democratic votes — was a policy achievement that has come to define his presidency, in part through the vehemence of its opponents in Congress.
Interactive Feature | The Iran Deal in 200 Words A short overview of highlights from the Iran nuclear pact.
“President Obama can claim that he found a way to move an extremely important, yet controversial, diplomatic agreement through the political process,” said Julian E. Zelizer, a history professor at Princeton University. “For conservatives the deal fulfills every negative view that they have about how President Obama and the way Democrats handle foreign threats,” he added. “The narrative is built for the campaign trail — a Democratic president agrees to drop sanctions on a horrible regime that even most Democrats agree shows little signs of reform.”
With an ample majority of Republicans running the House but a narrow one in the Senate, Mr. Obama has learned to measure when and how he can hold congressional Democrats together when he needs them — as is the case with the use of the filibuster for the Iran disapproval measure — but also when he needs to turn to Republicans to help flatten his own party, as was the case with a major trade package over the summer.
But the sheer partisan nature of the Iran matter does not bode well for impending fights on Capitol Hill, including one over whether to raise the debt ceiling and how to deal with spending.
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(via NY Times)