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Obama team scrambles for Illinois Dems’ votes on Iran deal

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WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is pushing hard to win Democratic support for the Iran nuclear deal and lock in undecided House Democrats from Illinois.

Last Friday, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz was dispatched by the White House to Chicago to deliver a speech making the case for the agreement at a breakfast hosted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

A few hours later, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned, Moniz lunched with about two dozen leaders of Chicago’s Jewish community, introduced to the group by Matt Nosanchuk, the White House liaison for Jewish Affairs.

Both events were at the Standard Club, a Loop establishment with deep Chicago Jewish roots.

Obama is facing massive resistance to the agreement from the influential AIPAC — the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — which has been heavily lobbying Congress to reject the pact.

AIPAC recently spawned a new group, Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, which will spend millions of dollars in a campaign to oppose the deal.


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One of the organizers of the Standard Club lunch was Chicago attorney Alan Solow, the former Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Solow, whose connection to President Barack Obama goes back to his state Senate days, was at the White House with other national Jewish leaders for a briefing from Moniz on July 31, returning on Aug. 4 for another meeting, this time with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

“I told the White House I would do whatever I could to get the facts out,” Solow told me on Tuesday.

On Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry and Moniz met with reporters from news outlets, including the Chicago Sun-Times, who cover Congress members the administration wants to reach.

“Nothing in this deal is a bet on the future of Iran’s behavior,” Kerry told reporters, addressing the concern about Iranian leaders in the years to come.

“Nothing in this deal is based on trust. Everything in this deal is based on verification and on certainty that we will know what they are doing,” Kerry said.

Congress will take up the Iran agreement in September, and with no Republican support, it is certain to pass legislation rejecting the deal.

Obama has already said he will veto that legislation, so the game is to have enough support to sustain the veto. That means 146 votes in the House and 34 in the Senate.

Key to overriding the veto is marshaling the support of Democrats, especially the Jewish Dems. Opposition to the agreement by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., makes that job tougher.

In the Senate, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the No. 2 leader, is for the agreement and is the driving force to find votes for the deal. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., is a strong critic, opposing it even as the negotiations were ongoing.

Here’s my assessment of where Illinois House members stand:

Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Rep. Luis Gutierrez are supporters. Schakowsky is rounding up backing for the deal in her role as one of the top whips, or vote counters in the House.

“I feel confident that we will have the votes in the House to sustain the veto,” Schakowsky told me on Tuesday.

Undecided but seen to be eventual backers are Bobby Rush, Danny Davis and Robin Kelly.

The other undecideds are Rep. Tammy Duckworth, running for the Senate; Rep. Bill Foster, the only physicist in Congress; and Rep. Mike Quigley, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

I asked Moniz about Foster because they can talk peer-to-peer about centrifuges, enriched uranium and reprocessing of nuclear reactor fuel.

“We have been briefing him a lot, including extensive classified briefings,” Moniz told me.

“He has been drilling down into breakout times and how they are calculated. Those are classified details but we have given him, as I said, hours of classified briefings,” he said. “Frankly, he is taking his responsibility as the only physicist in Congress seriously.”

The only leaning no vote is Dan Lipinski, who told me Tuesday he is “skeptical.”

Lipinski said he is worried about “where will Iran be in 10, 15 years from now” and how that will impact Middle East peace.

Addressing this point at the briefing with reporters, Moniz said: “Really the choices are between a very large nuclear program tomorrow with no verification and essentially a fraying international coalition, versus a potential large nuclear program after 15 years with verification and with, I believe, strong international unity in facing any Iranian attempt to build a nuclear weapon.”

Follow Lynn Sweet on Twitter: @LynnSweet

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