WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is assuring Senate Democrats that he will not agree to a bad nuclear deal with Iran — and asking them to withhold judgment until the deal is completed. He’s also telling them it’s uncertain whether that will happen.
Obama got no resistance to that message over wine and appetizers in the White House State Dining Room Tuesday evening, participants said the next day.
The session was part fence-mending after the testy debate over trade that divided Obama from many in his party last month. It was also an opportunity for Obama and Democrats to reset their relationship in preparation for the legislative session ahead as well as the remainder of Obama’s presidency.
A top focus was Iran, according to several lawmakers. Prospects are uncertain for the Obama administration to complete a deal, but if the accord isn’t sent to Congress by Thursday, its month-long review period would be doubled to 60 days.
“He was urging that we wait to see the actual terms of an agreement if there is one, and to have confidence that he would not sign a deal he viewed as flawed,” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.
Obama has expended significant political capital on finalizing an agreement to keep Iran from going nuclear, prompting Republicans to accuse him of making too many concessions and even some Democrats to express deep ambivalence. Tuesday night, he asked Democrats to support him if he does reach a deal that’s good enough for him to sign onto, though Coons said the president indicated that was “at best a 50-50 proposition.”
“He wanted to make it perfectly clear that he is in no rush to an agreement and that he will walk away from the table if there is no good deal to be reached and that there isn’t a deal yet and so all of these reports about what is in a deal are premature,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.
Participants said that after Obama’s opening remarks, the reception with senators and Cabinet members turned into an unusually friendly and free-flowing question and answer session ranging from climate change, to politics, to the budget, to rare diseases, to health care in the wake of the Supreme Court decision upholding Obama’s health care law.
As such it was a somewhat remarkable session for a president whose generally hands-off relationship with congressional Democrats has caused much fuming on Capitol Hill over the past six years. It was also notable that Obama’s last encounter with congressional Democrats was when he paid an 11th hour visit to Capitol Hill last month to beg House Democrats to save his trade agenda, only to watch them vote it down in a stunning denial.
The trade bill was later subsequently revived by Republican leaders, leaving some hard feelings among Democrats.
“The president wanted to make sure that the trade debate had not left too many raw wounds among the Democratic family,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.
Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann, Josh Lederman and Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.