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How the 2016 Climate Gives Obama an Advantage on Iran

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton
FILE: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton listens as President Barack Obama speaks on the death of U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)Evan Vucci / AP

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

The 2016 climate gives Obama an advantage on Iran

Is there a chance that opponents of the Iran deal eventually put together a bipartisan coalition big enough to overrule the president? It’s possible – but this particular political environment makes that less likely. With every Republican presidential candidate blasting the deal almost immediately, before the details of the agreement were apparent, it’s not hard for the administration to argue to Democrats on the fence that this is simply another a partisan fight and that while they may have concerns, their opposition would end up strengthening the GOP as a whole. Now, a political argument like that to twist arms on a vote may seem crass, but welcome to Washington politics. The president has another ally in swaying skeptical Democrats on Iran: Hillary Clinton. Because for Democrats, a vote to gut Obama’s top foreign policy legacy item wouldn’t just be bucking an outgoing president with 18 months left on the clock – it would now be bucking the candidate that could succeed him, too. In a statement last night, Hillary Clinton said: “I am still studying the details, but based on the briefings I received and a review of the documents, I support the agreement because it can help us prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. With vigorous enforcement, unyielding verification, and swift consequences for any violations, this agreement can make the United States, Israel, and our Arab partners safer.” Clinton was more definitive on Iran than she was on the trade agreement last month. If Clinton were splitting from the president (like she sorta tried to do on trade), it would be a lot easier for Democrats to be free agents and break with their party over concerns about the Iran deal. But if this is framed as a partisan battle with all the GOP candidates opposing the Democratic Party’s current AND future leader, Democrats are likely to feel more pressure to be good soldiers on this.

Obama gives a preview of his press conference

If you’re looking for a glimpse at Obama’s argument for the deal – which we’ll hear at his press conference this afternoon at 1pm ET – look no further than his lengthy interview with The New York Times’ Tom Friedman. In a 45-minute exchange, Obama defended the agreement as “the most definitive path by which Iran will not get a nuclear weapon” and hit back against the charge that U.S. negotiators failed to use all available leverage. “The reason we were able to unify the world community around the most effective sanctions regime we’ve ever set up, a sanction regime that crippled the Iranian economy and ultimately brought them to the table, was because the world agreed with us, that it would be a great danger to the region, to our allies, to the world, if Iran possessed a nuclear weapon. We did not have that kind of global consensus around the notion that Iran can’t enjoy any nuclear power whatsoever,” he said. And he laid out his own metric for determining success: “We are not measuring this deal by whether it is changing the regime inside of Iran. We’re not measuring this deal by whether we are solving every problem that can be traced back to Iran, whether we are eliminating all their nefarious activities around the globe. We are measuring this deal — and that was the original premise of this conversation, including by Prime Minister Netanyahu — Iran could not get a nuclear weapon.”


Here’s another thing in the New York Times interview that caught our eye: Obama directly made the comparison between his work on the Iran deal and Richard Nixon’s 1972 visit to China. “I had a lot of disagreements with Richard Nixon, but he understood there was the prospect, the possibility, that China could take a different path,” he said. If Republicans were looking for evidence that the president was too concerned about his legacy regarding the deal, they may have it in this comparison. Are there useful parallels to be explored? Sure. But 1) it’s the kind of pronouncement typically made by historians and others, usually not by the principal and 2) like Nixon’s visit to China, it’s going to be a long, long time before we have a clear picture of whether or not this deal has been a success. If Iran becomes stronger and more of a U.S. and Israeli antagonist in the Middle East, even without a nuclear weapon, this deal won’t be seen in the best of lights. And, of course, if Iran ends up with a nuke, well, then this is North Korea, not Nixon to China or Reagan and Gorbachev.

Respecting the political process

As much as we complain about the lengthy and grueling presidential nominating process, the Iran deal reminds us of WHY that process is so important. Nothing about this agreement came as a surprise; we knew from candidate Obama back in 2008 exactly what his goals were when it came to a possible deal with Iran or negotiating in general with adversaries. The same goes for his action on Cuba. Yes, a string of debates, forums, and dueling press conferences can seem like a circus sometimes – but moments like this remind us why they matter.

Rand Paul’s surprisingly quiet campaign

Is there any presidential candidacy that’s more surprisingly quiet than Rand Paul’s right now? Plenty of observers thought that he would be the candidate dominating the conversation at this stage in the primary cycle, but he’s not making many waves – and the time he’s taken to respond to major news events (including Iran yesterday) is starting to look like a pattern. His fundraising in the second quarter was fine (see below) but not great considering how wired he is with online donors. From outside it looks like a campaign that’s searching for direction. We know that dinging him for taking his time in responding to news isn’t fair considering the pace of the news cycle – and that, in a perfect world, being deliberate and thoughtful would make him look like the adult in the room. And, yes, for a candidate that uses “read the bill” as a rallying cry, he would be a hypocrite if he weren’t deliberate. But the reality is that he’s not going to be rewarded for it, especially when his base is largely made up of voters who want a LOT of activity and visibility. Perhaps this is just a blip and Paul is simply a victim of the current oxygen sucking sound that is the Trump campaign, but Paul’s movement is one that needs oxygen and thrives on activity and right now, the campaign seems to be getting a tad lost in the shuffle.

It’s FEC Filing Day

Tonight at midnight is the deadline for the campaigns’ second-quarter fundraising totals to be filed to the FEC. So the estimates we’ve been working with from the campaigns will be official, and we’ll get cash-on-hand numbers. Below are the estimates we’ve seen so far. Note: The Super PAC numbers don’t have to be filed until July 31.

What the campaigns have raised

With the July 15 reporting deadline coming up next week, here is what the CAMPAIGNS have raised so far in the second quarter:

  • Hillary Clinton campaign: $45 million
  • Bernie Sanders campaign: $15 million
  • Marco Rubio: $12 million
  • Jeb Bush: $11.4 million
  • Ben Carson: $10.5 million
  • Ted Cruz campaign: $10 million
  • Rand Paul: $7 million
  • Carly Fiorina: $1.4 million
  • Rick Perry: $1.07 million
  • Lincoln Chafee: $393,000

What the Super PACs and 501c4s have raised so far

  • Right to Rise (Bush): $103 million
  • Keep the Promise groups (Cruz): an estimated $37 million
  • Rick Perry Super PACs: $16.8 million
  • Conservative Solutions PAC (Rubio): $16 million
  • Conservative Solutions Project 501c4 (Rubio): $15.8 million
  • Priorities USA (Clinton): $15.6 million
  • American Bridge (Clinton): $7.7 million
  • American Bridge 501c4 (Clinton): $1 million
  • CARLY for America (Fiorina): $3.4 million
  • John Kasich 527s groups: $11.5 million

What the combined amounts (campaign + outside groups) are

  • Team Jeb: $114.4 million
  • Team Hillary: $69.3 million
  • Team Cruz: $51 million (that includes the $4 million his campaign raised in the 1stQ)
  • Team Rubio: $43.8 million
  • Team Perry: $17.9 million
  • Team Carly: $4.8 million

Hey, big spender!

Speaking of the fundraising reports, we’ll see juicy tidbits like these: The Wall Street Journal, which got an early look at Ben Carson’s filing, found the campaign with a high burn rate and hefty salaries. “Barry Bennett, Mr. Carson’s campaign manager, earns $17,500 per month, which works out to an annual salary of $210,000. Monthly salaries for other senior staffers include $15,000 for senior strategist Ed Brookover; $16,666 for communications director Doug Watts; $13,300 for press secretary Deana Bass.” Wow. By contrast, the Journal reminds us, “[Mitt] Romney’s national political director Richard Beeson and campaign manager Matt Rhoades each earned about $13,750 each month, according to FEC filings.”

Christie picks up another governor’s endorsement

If you’re wondering if there’s any loyalty in politics anymore,here’s your evidence: NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell reports that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan will endorse Chris Christie for president in Annapolis this morning. As RGA chair, Christie was instrumental in helping Hogan to his improbable victory in the blue state in 2014, even when most of the rest of the political establishment had long written off Hogan’s chance of winning. This is the second time Christie’s RGA ties have paid off; Maine Gov. Paul LePage also gave him a boost earlier this summer. With Hogan, there’s a personal connection too: the 2016 candidate has been wearing a bracelet in support of Hogan’s fight against cancer.

Scott Walker and the Boy Scouts

Here’s an item that might be raising some eyebrows this morning: Walker told IJ Review that he supported the Boy Scouts of America's previous policies barring gay troop leaders because "it protected children and advanced Scout values.” In a statement, Walker spokeswoman AshLee Strong said: "The previous policy protected Scouts from the rancorous political debate over policy issues and culture wars. Scouts should not be used as a political football on issues that can often be heated and divisive."