Republican lawmakers in the House grilled Secretary of State John Kerry and other members of the Obama administration on the Iran nuclear deal on Tuesday.
In tense exchanges in which Kerry was, at times, visibly exasperated he, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew vigorously defended the historic accord between Iran and six world powers aimed at curbing Tehran's nuclear program to deeply skeptical GOP lawmakers who have been vocal in their criticism. The secretaries are testifying at an ongoing House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing Tuesday.
Kerry urged lawmakers to support the deal saying that "walking away" would send a problematic message internationally.
"If we walk away, we walk away alone. Our partners are not going to be with us," Kerry said. "Instead they will walk away from the tough multilateral sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place. And we will have squandered the best chance that we have to solve this problem through peaceful means."
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and in both parties have expressed concerns about the details of the accord since the deal to help stymie Iran’s nuclear program was struck. A number of lawmakers — especially congressional Republicans — are dubious of the Obama administration's assertion that the alternative to the Iran nuclear deal is war.
As he did during his appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday, Kerry stressed that Iran already has experience with nuclear fuel cycle technology.
"They have mastered the ability to produce significant stockpiles of fissile material. And you have to have that to make a nuclear weapon," Kerry said on Tuesday. "We can't bomb away that knowledge anymore than you can sanction it away."
A number of lawmakers have also expressed concern about the broader impact of lifting economic sanctions on Iran and that nation's willingness to hold to the agreement.
California Republican Rep. Ed Royce, the committee's chairman called the deal "a financial windfall” for Iran a "a cash bonanza, a boost to its international standing, and a lighted path toward nuclear weapons."
"This deal guts the sanctions web that is putting intense pressure on Iran. Virtually all economic, financial, and energy sanctions disappear. And where does all that money go? To the largest terror network on earth," Royce said in his opening statements.
At times the exchanges were heated.
“So when I look at this and I see that Iran's neighbors who know it the best, trust it the least I just ask ...we are presuming Iran is going to change its behavior,” Royce said.
“No we're not,” Kerry responded.
“…and that behavior did not change last weekend when they were chanting death to America.” Royce continued
“Mr. Chairman with all due respect, please, we are presuming no such thing — there is one objective here: to prevent (Iran) from getting a nuclear weapon,” Kerry said.
When Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pennsylvania attempted to lecture Kerry on his role representing the Obama administration Kerry shot right back "I don’t need any lessons from you on who I represent."
While some members talked over Kerry as he attempted to answer questions, others made a rhetorical point by running out the clock on time allotted to speak before he could fully respond to questions.
"You're not going to be able to persuade them (Iran) to change just by charm, although you bring considerable amount of that," said Rep. Brad Sherman, D-California in one exchange with Kerry.
One Democrat hit back at what he saw as the "fiction involved" in some of the criticism of the agreement.
"The willing suspension of disbelief is at work," said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Virginia. "Walking away from this agreement, you need to take responsibility for the consequences to Israel, whether you're (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Bibi Netanyahu or a member of Congress."
House Speaker John Boehner has vowed that his congressional caucus will “do everything possible to stop” the agreement.
Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee on Saturday called the Iran deal "idiotic," and compared it to the Holocaust, saying that President Barack Obama will ultimately "take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven."
Obama at a news conference in Ethiopia on Monday morning said the comments are "part of a general pattern that would be considered ridiculous if it weren't so sad," the president said.
The deal still faces a vote in Congress, although it is unclear whether Republicans and some Democrats who object to the deal will actually be able to override the decision — and Obama has threatened to veto any attempt to reject the accord. On July 20, members of Congress began a 60-day review of the deal.