Manchin getting earful on Iran deal

Democrat U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin is the last remaining member of the West Virginia Congressional delegation to decide whether he will vote for or against the Iran nuclear deal. Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and Republican House of Representatives members David McKinley, Alex Mooney and Evan Jenkins have all stated publicly they will vote against the P5+1 agreement designed to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

When the deal was announced last month, Manchin leaned toward cautious endorsement. “We don’t trust them (the Iranians) and they don’t trust us,” Manchin said. “I would be in support of this agreement if it allows us to reboot and retrigger the sanctions if—and people say it’s only a matter of time—and when they violate the conditions of the agreement.”

However, in subsequent weeks, Manchin has yet to say definitively that he’ll cast a vote in favor of the controversial proposal when Congress takes up the issue next month. But he is doing his homework.

A news release from the Senator listed 29 times Manchin has met with key players or attended briefings since July 15 to gather information from all sides. “He’s doing as much as I have ever seen him do on an issue,” one Manchin source told me.

Manchin’s fact gathering runs from classified security briefings in D.C. to meetings with constituents here in the state. The senator is planning what’s expected to be a large town hall meeting, probably in Charleston, before the Senate goes back into session Sept. 8.

Manchin has even posted the Iran agreement on his Facebook page, encouraging West Virginians to “read the full text of the Iranian deal for themselves.”

What West Virginians know of the deal they don’t much like. A Manchin spokesman said the feedback has been overwhelmingly negative. Some of that opposition, however, is likely rooted in widespread dislike in the state for President Obama.

If Manchin wants to walk back his initial support for the deal, he could justify it because of the news that broke Wednesday, suggesting the inspections are not as tough as first believed.  The Associated Press reported on a previously unknown document labeled “separate arrangement II” whereby Iran “will be allowed to use its own inspectors to investigate a site it has been accused of using to develop nuclear arms.”

In Washington, opponents are approaching the 60 votes needed in the Senate to break a filibuster and pass a measure disapproving of the agreement. Democrats Charles Schumer of New York and Bob Menendez of New Jersey have come out against the deal, meaning Republicans still need four more Democrats to reach 60. Manchin could be one of those four.

Ultimately, the Senate vote may not matter. A Senate and House disapproval resolution will trigger a presidential veto. Sixty-seven votes would be needed to override in the Senate, and on the House side, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says she has enough votes to block an override.

However, the Iran deal has become a hot button issue with voters, and no one knows that more than Manchin, whose hearing it from all sides, a source said. “The guy is talking with every person you could possibly talk with.”

And Manchin cannot take his preferred route on controversial issues—sit down with all sides and try to carve out a deal. In this case, the deal has already been done and he’s either for it or against it.

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