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In Congress, A Mixed Reaction To Iran Nuclear Deal

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The big news this morning - the United States and other world powers have reached a nuclear deal with Iran. This deal imposes severe restrictions on Iran's nuclear program in return for the lifting of economic sanctions. Here is President Obama at the White House a short while ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARACK OBAMA: Because of this deal, we will, for the first time, be in a position to verify all of these commitments. That means this deal is not built on trust. It is built on verification.

GREENE: President Obama speaking a short while ago at the White House. Joining us on the line, NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Good morning, Tamara.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So something built on verification - it sounds like the president's very optimistic that this deal will be a success in limiting Iran's nuclear program. Describe the case that he's making to the American public here.

KEITH: I think the case that he is making is - consider the alternative. And he is saying that the alternative would be Iran getting closer to a nuclear weapon. He says with this, there's verification, there are inspections, and Iran is going to have to dismantle large parts of its nuclear weapons program, and that the international community will be able to inspect to see that Iran is following through on its commitments.

GREENE: Well, I mean, we think about the parties who have basically sent a message that they don't believe that there's enough verification - Israel, for one, also many members of Congress. And let's talk about Congress because lawmakers will get to review this agreement for 60 days and could potentially reject this deal, right? Is that really possible?

KEITH: It's certainly possible. I think that the reactions coming in so far are mixed. It isn't really breaking down strictly on partisan lines. I'd say Democrats are in a range from strongly supportive to extremely cautious. Republicans are more in the range from cautious to strongly opposed. And leaders like House Speaker John Boehner are coming out with statements saying that this deal is worse than the alternative. Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton is perhaps one of the most vocal opponents, and he spoke this morning on MSNBC.

(SOUNDBITE OF MSNBC BROADCAST)

TOM COTTON: This proposed deal is a terrible, dangerous mistake that's going to pave the path for Iran to get a nuclear weapon, while also giving them tens of billions of dollars of sanctions relief - even lifting the arms embargo at a time when they're destabilizing the entire Middle East. The American people are going to repudiate this deal, and I believe Congress will kill the deal.

KEITH: So Congress could - House and Senate could pass bills rejecting the deal. President Obama says he will veto any legislation that tries to prevent the implementation of the deal. So then the question becomes is there a veto-proof majority in both the House and the Senate, particularly in the Senate. Are there enough Democrats who oppose it that Republicans can sink it? And that is really not clear at this point. There are a whole lot of Democrats who are saying, let's look at the deal. They aren't coming out and saying whether they oppose it yet.

GREENE: And, Tamara, just briefly, I mean, I think about President Obama's foreign policy sort of agenda - countries like Cuba, Iraq, Afghanistan come to mind. I mean, how important is this deal with Iran for him?

KEITH: This is absolutely part of what he's been talking about since he was running for president. I went back and found a debate from 2007 where he said we need to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons, and one thing we have to try is talking to Iran. And here he is - two years of negotiations with Iran have culminated in this agreement. For him, this is certainly a victory with an asterisk. He has to get past Congress.

GREENE: And we've been speaking with NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Tamara, thanks a lot.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.

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