U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal is no longer on the fence regarding the nuclear deal with Iran. “While this is not the agreement I would have accepted at the negotiating table, it is better than no deal at all,” Blumenthal said Tuesday.
Blumenthal made the announcement in his Hartford office before flying back to Washington where it’s expected there will be a vote on the deal, or possibly a vote to uphold a presidential veto, if a measure in opposition to the deal makes it through the Republican-controlled Congress.
“I am convinced there is no better deal now,” Blumenthal said. “There is no better deal available now, so I am going to work and fight to improve and strengthen this deal.”
Blumenthal was the final member of Connecticut’s congressional delegation to announce his support for the deal.
On Tuesday, Blumenthal joined U.S. Sens. Gary Peters, of Michigan, and Ron Wyden, of Oregon, in supporting the deal and giving his party the 41 votes it needs to survive Congressional review. U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, announced Tuesday he would vote against the deal. Manchin joins Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer of New York, Ben Cardin of Maryland, and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, in opposition to the accord.
Blumenthal, who is up for re-election in 2016, was the target of heavy lobbying over the issue from both sides in anticipation of his decision. Former senatorial and gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont sponsored a series of ads and also set up a Facebook page asking residents to “Contact Senator Blumenthal and urge him to vote yes on the Iran nuclear agreement.”
On the other side, Secure America Now, a conservative nonprofit group with a focus on foreign policy, urged residents to “Call Senator Blumenthal now and tell him to stand up for America and strike down this bad deal with Iran.”
Another former senator from Connecticut, Joseph Lieberman, is listed as a member of the boards for at least two of the groups that have purchased airtime in Connecticut to oppose the deal. Lieberman is on the board of the American Security Initiative and he’s also on the advisory board of Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran.
Conservative talk show host Larry Kudlow has said he would run against Blumenthal if the senator backed the deal. Blumenthal did not comment on that possibility at the press conference Tuesday.
The only announced Republican candidate who plans to challenge Blumenthal in 2016 issued a statement calling Connecticut’s senior senator opportunistic.
“Blumenthal lacks all integrity on this issue,” Republican August Wolf, said. “He waited until the last possible moment, counted the votes and decided to opportunistically throw in with the President. A real profile in courage.”
Blumenthal said he spoke with President Barack Obama several times about the deal, but he declined to disclose the details of those conversations. He said he also spoke to the leaders of the opposition to the deal.
Blumenthal also didn’t apologize for the length of time he took to make his decision, which he called the most “consequential” of his career.
He said there are compelling and strong arguments on both sides.
“There are a lot of uncertainties and unknowns,” Blumenthal said.
Blumenthal said the deal can be made better through unilateral American action and collaboration with European allies. Those allies are not coming back to the table, Blumenthal pointed out.
He said if America did not sign onto the deal, its relationships would be fractured and “we would be isolated, rather than Iran.”
He said Iran will enjoy an economic windfall whether Congress accepts the agreement or not “and we should focus on stopping the funds that it will receive when sanctions are lifted from being used for terrorism.”
He said the focus should be stopping incremental funds from being used to foster or support terrorism through “overwhelming sanctions.”
He said his support for the deal doesn’t mean his support for Israel has dwindled. Blumenthal, who is Jewish, said he will continue to be a “steadfast advocate of providing whatever is needed for [Israel’s] defense.”
As far as the structure of the deal with Iran is concerned, “the use of military force has to be on the table. It’s an option that has to be maintained,” Blumenthal said.
He said that’s one of the reasons he supports the deal, because it gives the United States the ability to lead a coalition to enforce the economic sanctions through diplomacy or, “if necessary,” the use of military force.
If the United States were to reject this agreement, it would put itself “outside the alliance we have built,” Blumenthal added.