Sunday, September 13, 2015


  • Obama Methodically Wooed Democrats to Back Iran Nuclear Deal
  • CAROL E. LEE and SIOBHAN HUGHES  Sept. 11, 2015 
 White House set up an ‘anti-war’ room to pressure fellow Democrats, worked with Pelosi and outside groups


WASHINGTON—Six days after reaching the nuclear deal with Iran, the White House in July set up what aides dubbed an “anti-war room” in the basement of the West Wing.
The windowless hub became the seat of the ADMINISTRATION’s aggressive campaign to push back against critics of the deal. Whiteboards listed lawmakers’ positions. Computer screens logged onto Twitter to monitor commentary from opponents, and a small television helped staffers keep tabs on the cable-news debate. For weeks, the operation buzzed with senior White House officials, digital gurus and rank-and-file aides running a rapid-response operation.
The “anti-war” name of the room underscored the White House’s realization earlier this year that the nuclear deal was unlikely to win any Republican votes in Congress and would require a battle plan focused on mustering support among Democrats skeptical of the deal. It also reflected a chief White House message: Those who supported the nuclear deal favored diplomacy; opponents favored war with Iran.
Administration officials ran the operation like a political campaign, using well-funded outside groups to lay the groundwork for casting supporters of the deal as pro-war, soliciting public endorsements from foreign-policy heavyweights and rekindling relationships with congressional Democrats sidelined since the Republican takeover of the House in the 2010 election and the Senate in 2014.
“The primary focus was securing the support of Democrats,” said Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser.
The resulting narrow, partisan victory this week leaves President Barack Obama’s top foreign-policy initiative vulnerable to challenges and vigorous debate in the 2016 campaigns, much like his signature domestic achievement, the Affordable Care Act, which defined elections and shaped congressional deliberations over the past five years.
The ACCORD also faces hurdles in coming weeks as Iran’s parliament prepares to vote on it and Republicans on Capitol Hill pivot from a stinging defeat to efforts to scuttle the deal in other ways, including legal challenges and legislation hitting Tehran with new sanctions opposed by the White House.
In Mr. Obama’s view, the potential fallout was worth it, because the stakes involving the Iranian nuclear program were so high, administration officials said.
During the fight over his health-care bill, debate dragged on for nearly a year before Mr. Obama disbanded efforts to draw GOP support and engineered a victory solely with Democratic votes. Mr. Obama had a smaller window under the Iran Nuclear Review Act—60 days—in which to make sure the Iran deal survived in Congress. And all he needed were enough Democratic votes in either the House or Senate to sustain his veto of a congressional resolution rejecting the deal.
In the end, Mr. Obama never had to issue a veto, as all but four Senate Democrats joined forces on Thursday to block a vote on a resolution to reject the deal.
Until recently, Mr. Obama’s FIRE WALL had been the House. The White House earlier this summer zeroed in on House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) as a critical ally. As speaker, Mrs. Pelosi had been a key driver in the successful passage of the health-care law in 2010. If she was on board, Mr. Obama knew he could count on her to deliver House Democrats on the Iran deal
After the pact was reached on July 14, Mr. Obama’s first meeting with lawmakers was with Mrs. Pelosi and the small team of Democrats who were helping her whip votes in the House. She methodically built support. She deciphered lawmakers’ individual preferences, dividing up those who preferred large, classified briefings and those favoring smaller meetings focused on a narrow aspect of the deal.
“They strategized together on the path forward,” another senior ADMINISTRATION official said. “So right away, the strategizing began.”
Without overtly pressing for their votes, she made sure Democrats had access to the documents, White House officials and outside experts needed to help shape their decisions.
“That was the only question I would ask people when I would call them: Do you have what you need to make your decision?” Mrs. Pelosi said in an interview.
Mrs. Pelosi, who carried a thick black binder with statements from Democrats supporting the deal, provided an important channel of information to the White House. Over the August recess, she passed along the names of 57 House Democrats Mr. Obama should call to close the deal, ACCORDING to an aide. Mr. Obama made every call she recommended, the aide said.
The president singled her out in his statement Friday praising House Democrats for voting in favor of the deal.
Early in its campaign, the White House partnered with a range of liberal action groups, veterans organizations and Christian affiliates to bolster its efforts to pressure Congress. A key player was the San Francisco-based Ploughshares Fund, according to U.S. officials. Ploughshares has spent more than $7 million in the past four years funding think tanks, media organizations and activist groups focused on championing diplomacy with Iran.
The Ploughshares coalition includes a former Iranian government spokesman, the liberal Jewish organization J Street and a group of former U.S. diplomats who have held private talks with Iranian officials.
A week before the deal was reached, Ploughshares organized for the White House a conference call for around 100 activist groups to strategize how to promote the Iran deal. Two members of the White House’s Office of Public Engagement took part.
According to a transcript of the call reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, participants stressed that the Iran agreement was the most important of the Obama administration’s second term, and they needed to prepare for battle with Republicans.
“The other side will go crazy. We have to be really clear that it’s a good deal,” said Robert Creamer of Americans United for Change, a liberal action group. His wife is Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D., Ill.), a close ally of the White House in selling the agreement.
Ploughshares officials defended the group as nonpartisan. “Ploughshares Fund is proud of the work of our grantees and partners in support of this historic nuclear agreement,” said Joe Cirincione, its president. “We support this agreement, not any particular party or administration.”
Mr. Creamer, a longtime Democratic activist, said Friday he supported the Iran deal because it was better than an any alternative, and it ensured the U.S. wouldn’t get bogged down in another Middle East war, like in Iraq.
The July 6 Ploughshares meeting was first reported by the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news site.
On the anti-agreement side, groups also were spending heavily, committing $13 million to the fight—more than six times that spent by pro-agreement groups, ACCORDINGarrow-10x10.png to estimates.{Whose estimates?   Taxpayer funding includes: salaries of government employees at the White House, treasury, Department of Energy, etc. Travel expenses. Computer, telephone and other communication expenses, etc.–Much of this would be considered lobbying of Congress relating to proposed legislation and could actually be forbidden under federal law. Then there is the Plowshares $7 million. Add-in the Iranian American Political Action Committee,  J St. and the other many liberal and Democratic organizations and their  total  expenditures far exceeds the estimated? $13 million… Certainly not the ratio of more than 6 to 1  the  unidentified Pro-agreement source maintains.]
The president significantly sharpened his rhetoric over the summer. Instead of his usual nuanced arguments were grim sound bites. “Let’s not mince words. The choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy or some form of war,” Mr. Obama said in a speech on Aug. 5.
“I think Obama said, ‘If you do this, you’re going to make an enemy of my machine forever,’ ” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.). “You think twice when you’re gaining a new enemy.”{President Obama's remark/ threat has been confirmed.}
Mr. Obama began courting Democratic lawmakers before the deal was announced, showering them with attention in ways he has largely resisted since becoming president.
The week before the deal was reached, Mr. Obama spent five hours on the golf COURSE IN 94-degree heat with three Democratic House members—a first for a president who typically keeps his foursome to a small group of aides or close friends. Spokesmen for the lawmakers, Reps. Joe Courtney of Connecticut, John Yarmuth of Kentucky and Ed Perlmutter of Colorado, said the golf game had no bearing on their decisions to support the deal.
The president also hosted Senate Democrats at the White House for a social event that week, so he could I his case on the Iran deal. He did the same for House Democrats after the deal was announced. The White House never organized such events for Republicans.
The GOP, meanwhile, has begun exploring new way of stopping the agreement from moving forward. In addition to considering an array of new sanctions on Iran that the White House doesn’t want passed in coming weeks, if at all, GOP lawmakers are trying to ensure the agreement faces repeated challenges.
“The limitation on the president is he’s only got the ability to do this during his term,” Rep. Peter Roskam (R., Ill.) said in an interview. “Part of our strategy is to slow this down.”
—Jay Solomon and Kristina Peterson contributed to this article.