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Obama Has An Iran Deal. Now He Has to Sell It to Congress.

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, Joe Biden
Pablo Martinez Monsivais / 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.

Selling the Iran deal: Get ready for the latest political fight in the Obama Era

After years of negotiation and involvement from other world powers, the historic nuclear deal the United States reached earlier this morning with Iran might have been the easy part. The harder part is President Obama selling it to a Republican-controlled Congress. But there is one important hitch: Under legislation Congress passed earlier this year, Obama could veto any vote of disapproval -- and it would take two-thirds votes from both the House AND Senate to override Obama’s veto. In other words, it means House and Senate Democrats would have to abandon the president and his party for Congress to nix the deal, which isn’t likely. Still, the deal is going to set off the latest political battle in the Obama Era, and it will occur in the midst of the 2016 presidential contest. “I welcome a robust debate in Congress,” Obama said this morning in announcing the deal. That he most certainly will get, as NBC’s Alex Moe observed. So Obama has two things that must happen for this to truly be seen as a legacy achievement: 1) it has to get through Congress, and 2) it’s got to work. And we won’t know that second part for a long, long time.

What happens next in Congress

Per NBC’s Frank Thorp, once Congress receives the actual details of the deal, a 60-day review period begins. During that time there will be hearings in both the House and Senate from administration officials and outside experts. During that review, Thorp adds, President Obama is prohibited from suspending, waiving, or otherwise reducing congressional sanctions. Congress then will go on its month-long August recess. While hearings would likely start before the recess, any vote of approval or disapproval would likely wait until after they return from August recess on Sept. 8. If Congress passes a joint resolution of disapproval (from both the House and Senate), and sends it to President Obama's desk for his signature, it would start another 12-day clock which gives Obama the ability to veto the resolution. After President Obama presumably vetoes the resolution, Congress would have 10 days to attempt to override the veto, which would require a two-thirds vote from both chambers. Finally, Thorp concludes, if Congress is able to override a veto on a joint resolution of disapproval during that period, it would permanently prevent the president from waiving or suspending Congressional sanctions.

The Obama administration’s best argument in support of the deal: The alternative is worse

Maybe the best argument that the Obama administration and its allies have in support of the nuclear deal with Iran is that the alternative is far, far worse. “Without this deal, there's no scenario where world joins us in sanctioning Iran,” Obama said this morning, referring to the other countries (Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia) who joined with the United States. “Without this deal,” Obama added, “there would be no agreed-upon limitations for the Iranian nuclear program. Iran could produce, operate, and rest more and more centrifuges.” And the president said, “No deal means no lasting constraints on Iran's nuclear program. Such a scenario would make it more likely that other countries in region would feel compelled to pursue their own programs, threatening an arms race in most volatile region of world.” On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) agreed with this view: “It would be a catastrophe for us to walk away.”

Opponents’ best argument against the deal: It makes Iran even stronger in the region

And maybe the best argument that opponents can make against the deal is that it makes Iran much, much stronger in the Middle East, which could produce destabilizing effects. That is what has Israel so worried. Ditto Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries. Already, Iran is maybe the strongest player in the region, and the deal makes them even stronger. Here’s how GOP presidential candidate Lindsey Graham put it: “[I]t’s akin to declaring war on Sunni Arabs and Israel by the P5+1 because it ensures their primary antagonist Iran will become a nuclear power and allows them to rearm conventionally,” he told Bloomberg’s Josh Rogin.

The 2016 angle on the Iran deal

There’s one final angle on the nuclear deal -- the reaction from the 2016 presidential candidates. How will Hillary Clinton (who helped lay the groundwork for this deal as secretary of state) respond? Given her past work on it and her past statements, she’ll probably support it. And the GOP candidates, not surprisingly, will oppose it. Here’s Mike Huckabee’s statement: "Shame on the Obama administration for agreeing to a deal that empowers an evil Iranian regime to carry out its threat to 'wipe Israel off the map' and bring 'death to America.’” And some of the 2016 Republicans have said they’ll undo the deal on their first day in the White House. “We need to terminate the bad deal with Iran on Day One,” Scott Walker said in his presidential announcement last night. But here’s the real question for these Republicans: Can they really do it? Especially given that allies and world powers like Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia all signed on to the deal? So say an American president rips up the deal -- who gets blamed for the aftermath? That’s the tricky situation.

Walker’s “fight and win” vs. Jeb’s “right to rise”

As for Scott Walker’s presidential announcement last night, his speech sets up a potentially intriguing contrast with Jeb Bush. You have Walker’s “fight and win” message versus Jeb’s aspirational “right to rise”/”compassionate conservative” Part II message. The question we’ll find out starting six months from now: Which message resonates more with GOP primary voters?

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