Collins faces tough Iran choices

In judging the proposed nuclear accord with Iran, it looks like wisdom is determined by political party.

Almost all Republicans quickly opposed the deal. The Democrats, true their more unruly traditions, are mostly supporting it, though some are vocal in opposition.

The GOP members of Congress are not only opposed to President Obama, hardly a change from their stance since he first took office, but also to the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China, the United Nations and the European Union.

Their almost united opposition to the deal in the face of support from so many others could easily be read as matter of politics over policy. Iran could take its place alongside the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare – as central elements of the Republicans’ 2016 campaign effort to take over the White House while keeping control of the House and Senate.

By arguing against the Iran deal strongly and repeatedly, the Republicans are conditioning public concern about it, laying the foundation for campaign attacks in the general election. The Obama Administration has often been weak in defending its own policies, as the discussion of Obamacare has shown.

The current political calculation is that Obama will squeak by and avoid an outright congressional rejection of the deal, because he will hold onto enough Democrats to prevent a GOP override of his veto in the Senate. The Democrats might even be able to prevent the matter from coming to a vote in the Senate.

There is only one Republican senator who has not announced opposition. “Obama’s last hope for GOP support on Iran: Susan Collins,” headlines a Washington political newspaper.

Because she has not yet taken a position on the deal could mean that she is considering its provisions carefully and not merely adopting the party line.

Careful consideration, which includes reading the documents clearly skipped by many of her colleagues, makes sense. This is an important matter worthy of careful review. And like any human product, it is certainly not perfect, so it’s fair to balance its merits and defects.

But Collins must also take political factors into account. Her GOP Senate leaders certainly would like her support and are more likely to reward her if she follows their policy of opposition. And there are surely Republicans in Maine who will be angry or disappointed if she strays from the party position.

That could mean Collins would have to be willing to show the kind of political courage she has occasionally demonstrated in the past, which could place her in the Maine political pantheon with Margaret Chase Smith, Edmund Muskie, George Mitchell, Bill Cohen and perhaps Olympia Snowe.

Waiting to announce her decision until all the other votes fall into place could make political sense.

Let’s say the Democrats have enough votes to ensure that in the Senate the Iran deal cannot be overturned, as now seems likely. She might find the politics easier to go along with the GOP knowing that her vote sticking with her party would not block the deal.

But, if the outlook for the deal in the Senate remains in doubt and Collins decides the deal is acceptable, her vote could be critical. Even if her popularity with independents and Democrats in Maine could provide reassurance about her reelection, that vote could make her political life far more difficult.

To help both sides, she could vote against a Democratic move to cut off debate and, if they lack the necessary votes to block a vote, permit the rejection vote. Then, she could choose to support the deal or to sustain Obama’s veto of the rejection bill.

In fairness, it is estimated that three GOP House members have not stated their positions and could support the deal. But it is unlikely that whatever they do could have as decisive and visible an effect as what Collins might do.

It is worth recalling that the Affordable Care Act passed without a single Republican vote in either the House or Senate. That would make outright opposition by the GOP, including Collins, not unusual. In fact, if she were to support the Iran deal, it would be an historic sign of at least one senator’s effort to break down the partisan walls in Washington.

The Republicans seem to be readying themselves to lose in their opposition. Some of them say the deal will not really advance until the world sees if the GOP takes control of the federal government in 2017.

Given the deal’s almost immediate acceptance by much of the world community, this seems to be unrealistic. So Susan Collins’s vote matters now.

Gordon L. Weil

About Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil is a former local, state, national and international organization official. He is an author and newspaper columnist.