Why Cory Booker Is Trying to Deep-Six Obama's Historic Efforts at Peacemaking with Iran
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On the eve of Thanksgiving, President Obama and other major world powers reached a historic dealwith Iran that would see a freeze in parts of that nation's nuclear program in exchange for a softening of sanctions that have taken a heavy tollon Iran's civilian economy.
The deal was widely praised across the world, but brought sharp criticism from the Israeli government, with Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu calling it a “historic mistake.” Yet in a rare display of daylight between the two governments, Obama administration officials have stuck to their guns, and are adamant about keeping the agreement in place.
Members of Congress allied to pro-Israel votes and money, however, are not so keen on allowing Obama's refreshing diplomacy to take its course. Senators who have long been allies of the nation's Israel lobby – such as Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL), who said Israel is the “reason why I ran for Senate,” and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) – quickly prepared new sanctions legislation, which is especially perilous at this time because the Iranian government has vowed to pull out of talks if Congress passes any more sanctions.
This threat is taken so seriously by the Obama administration that the President has vowed to vetoany new sanctions bills. During a late December press conference, Obama castigated thosepushing for new sanctions. “I'm not surprised that there's been some talk from some members of Congress about new sanctions,” said Obama. “I think the politics of trying to look tough on Iran are often good when you're running for office, or if you're in office.”
47 Senators have co-sponsored the Kirk-Menendez legislation, curiously called the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013 – given that forcing Iran out of the talks makes it more likely that it would pursue nuclear weapons – including fifteen Democrats.
One of the Democrats most out front in promoting the sanctions is Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate. Schumer is an almost lockstep ally to the president in most policy areas, with a voting record to the left of most Senate Democrats. However, on this issue, him and ultra-reactionaries like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) are aligned. MapLight ranks him as the twelfth-highest recipient of pro-Israel money all Senators, an important source of campaign cash especially in his state of New York.
Shortly after Obama and other world leaders struck their deal with Iran, Schumer attended a gala event with OHEL Children's Home and Family Services, a staunchly pro-Israel crowd in his state (its co-president Mel Zechter is a significant donor to pro-Israel Democrats). “Democrats and Republicans are going to work together to see that we don’t let up on these sanctions…until Iran gives up not only its nuclear weapons, but all nuclear weapon capability, all enriched uranium,” Schumer thundered.”Every time the Arab world, the Palestinians, have risen against us, we have risen to defeat them. The one existential threat to Israel’s existence is a nuclear Iran.” When the Iran sanctions bill was introduced on December 19th, he was an original co-sponsor.
The fact that hawkish allies of the Israel lobby like Menendez, Schumer, and Kirk introduced the sanctions legislation is no surprise. What may be surprising to some is that the body's newest member – Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who has said “there is nothing in the realm of progressive politics where you won't find me” and is prone to quoting Gandhi – is a proud co-sponsor as well.
But when you look at Booker's back story, who he counts as his closest advisers, who helped him fundraise, and the traditional power of the Israel lobby in his home state, his support for the Senate Iran hawks becomes less and less curious and more and more expected.