Between Maryland and Virginia, only one member of Congress broke with his political party on the Iran nuclear agreement during two votes last week.
Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) was the last member of the Maryland congressional delegation to come forward with his position on the deal. On Friday, the Montgomery County member of the House cast a vote in support of the Iran nuclear agreement, which left Sen. Ben Cardin as the only Maryland Democrat opposed.
In late August, Delaney met with more than 400 members of the Jewish community at Beth Sholom Congregation and Talmud Torah in Potomac to update them on his views of the agreement. At the conclusion of the event, which was co-sponsored by OU Advocacy, Young Israel Ezras Israel of Potomac and Chabad Shul of Potomac, Delaney, viewed as a centrist, released a statement saying he remained undecided.
But ultimately, when a vote to approve the deal came before the House, Delaney joined with the other Maryland House Democrats, several of whom came out as early supporters of the president’s foreign policy initiative.
“I view the [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] as a poorly negotiated deal on balance,” said Delaney in a statement.
He continued, “And while I would like to ‘put the toothpaste back in the tube’ and have another cut at getting a better deal for the American people and our ally Israel, I have concluded that this is impossible to do, particularly since the Senate failed to pass their resolution of disapproval, so I voted to approve the deal.”
Delaney did not rule out future military intervention should Iran fail to meet its obligations.
Two days prior to the House vote, House Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) also announced his support of the agreement, though he didn’t mince words in criticizing the deal.
“This agreement is not one which I would have negotiated, nor one I think should have been agreed to, given the collective strength of the P5+1 compared to that of Iran,” Hoyer said in a statement. “I believe this agreement gives too much to Iran and demands too little in return. It only partially meets the objectives of the international community within a limited time period in return for fully and permanently lifting nuclear-related sanctions.”
Moving forward, Hoyer said, the United States should take the steps to “fortify and enforce” the JCPOA and to support Israel and Gulf allies. He floated the possibility of transferring a Massive Ordnance Penetrator — bunker buster bomb — to Israel or having the United States deploy an MOP to the region.
Cardin and Rep. Andrew P. Harris (R-Md.) were the only Maryland politicians to vote against the deal.
Cardin, in splitting with senior Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, said, “There cannot be respect for a country that actively foments regional instability advocates for Israel’s destruction, kills the innocent and shouts ‘Death to America.’”
Cardin was one of only four Democratic Senators to oppose the deal. He was joined by fellow Jewish lawmaker Chuck Schumer of New York and Sens. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Joe Manchin of West Virginia in voting to move ahead on a resolution of disapproval.
Harris, the sole Republican in the Maryland Congressional delegation, said he had “no faith” that Iran would keep to the deal.
“Lifting sanctions only gives more power to a country that has a proven record of state-sponsored terrorism, religious extremism and human rights abuses, and which poses a grave danger both to the United States and our allies overseas,” Harris said in a statement.
Across the border in Virginia, Democratic Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine supported the agreement and voted against cloture.
Kaine, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees, said he supports the deal as a “better than the status quo for the 15 to 25 years” of the agreement and said that he wouldn’t entertain a hypothetical alternative.
Speaking from the Senate floor on Sept. 9, Kaine quoted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2012 speech before the United Nations, during which the prime minister said, “We have to face the truth. The sanctions have not stopped the Iranian nuclear program.”
“So if we go back to the status quo, it’s an accelerated program with 19,000 centrifuges and enough enriched uranium for multiple weapons,” said Kaine. “We get in this deal much better than we would have with the status quo that existed before diplomacy, and that’s why I support it.”
Warner similarly called the agreement “an improvement over the status quo.”
“As I reviewed the agreement, I kept two fundamental questions in mind: (1) Does this agreement advance the goal of keeping Iran free of nuclear weapons? And (2) Is there a viable alternative that would be superior to this deal?” Warner wrote in a statement.
Though he concluded yes to the former and no to the latter, prompting his ultimate support of the deal, Warner said he was “not satisfied with [JCPOA] as a final measure” and pledged to “shore up its weaker points.”
Warner called for the administration to provide additional reporting to Congress on how Iran uses its sanctions-relief monies among other suggestions for improving JCPOA enforcement.
All eight of Virginia’s Republican members of the House of Representatives voted against a measure approving the deal while the state’s three Democrats in the House voted to approve the deal.