Supporters and opponents of the multinational nuclear agreement with Iran are intensifying pressure on Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) to vote in their favor.
As of press time, 28 senators — most of them Democrats — have agreed to back the deal, which comes up for a vote some time before Sept. 17.
Republican opponents need 13 Democratic senators to reject the deal to reach the two-thirds needed to override President Obama’s expected veto.
So far, the only Senate Democrats to oppose the deal are New Jersey’s senior senator, Robert Menendez, and New York’s Charles Schumer.
Twice in two weeks, Booker has told members of the state’s Jewish community, via conference calls, that he has not yet made up his mind.
As the deadline for the congressional referendum draws closer, the tug-of-war over Booker’s vote grows more intense.
On Tuesday, Gov. Chris Christie interrupted his campaign to join other opponents of the deal for a news conference at Rutgers Chabad in New Brunswick. The stated goal of the event was to urge Booker and the two other undecided NJ lawmakers — Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-Dist. 6) and Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D- Dist. 9) — to oppose the deal (see related story).
Ben Chouake, president of the Englewood-based pro-Israel lobby NORPAC, took part in the event; NORPAC has contacted its backers with requests to telephone Booker’s office to urge him to “take a strong stand” against the agreement.
Reached by cellphone a few minutes before the press conference began, Chouake told NJ Jewish News, “I am not sure how [Booker] will vote. I think he believes the agreement is very weak and problematic, but he and others are trying to figure out ‘If not this, then what?’ I am very concerned about how he will vote. It is a very weighty decision.”
Chouake said he believes Booker is balancing personal inclinations against party loyalty.
“The president is pushing this deal and, if possible, Booker and other Democrats would like to support the banner-carrier of their party when possible.”
The Zionist Organization of America, a fierce opponent of the deal, cosponsored a full-page ad in The New York Times urging Booker to oppose the deal. It partnered on the ad with The World Values Network, whose executive director, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, is a longtime friend of Booker’s. ZOA shared the cost of the ad with Howard Jonas, founder of the Newark-based IDT Corporation.
On the other side of the issue, left-of-center MoveOn.org announced demonstrations on Aug. 26 outside Booker’s Newark office and the New Brunswick office of Pallone.
MoveOn is joining with other organizations, including WinWithoutWar, Democracy for America, and Credo, in urging Pallone to support the agreement.
They were also planning to gather outside the Glen Rock office of Rep. Scott Garrett (R-Dist. 5) to decry his opposition to the Iran deal and declare that “he badly misrepresents most of us on a host of issues.”
J Street, the left-of-center pro-Israel group, is urging members to contact their senators, including Booker, to encourage support for the deal.
An Aug. 5 statement by board of trustees of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ “urges our congressional delegation to oppose the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Iran Nuclear Agreement as it stands.”
But Melanie Roth Gorelick, director of the federation’s Community Relations Committee, said her organization will not urge its members to lobby Booker against the deal.
“We are not mobilizing the community to support or oppose the Iran deal. Instead, we are continuing to provide opportunities to hear from experts on both sides,” she told NJJN.
In an Aug. 25 e-mail statement, Booker’s press secretary, Sylvia Alvarez, wrote: “Senator Booker will make his decision on the Iran deal based upon what he believes is best for America’s national security regardless of political pressure, lobbying, or theatrics. The senator’s decision will be derived from thorough and thoughtful analysis of all the facts, evidence, and information as well as from consultation with a wide and diverse array of experts.
“That’s why he’s spending countless hours reviewing the deal, consulting with independent experts, discussing the deal with New Jerseyans, and participating in classified and unclassified briefings. The question of how best to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon is as complicated as it is serious, and Senator Booker will continue to devote himself to determining the path forward that will best ensure America’s security and that of our allies.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story said an advertisement opposing the Iran deal was paid for by IDT founder Howard Jonas. According to the ZOA, the ad's costs were shared equally by Jonas and the ZOA. The article has been changed to reflect this.