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  August 9, 2015

The Forces Behind Schumer's Rejection of Iran Deal

While AIPAC and other anti-deal groups spent up to $40 million in TV ads, liberal groups have already come out rejecting NY Senator Schumer as the next party leader
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Jessica Desvarieux is a multimedia journalist who serves as the Capitol Hill correspondent for the Real News Network. Most recently, Jessica worked as a producer for the ABC Sunday morning program, This Week with Christianne Amanpour. Before moving to Washington DC, Jessica served as the Haiti corespondent for TIME Magazine and Previously, she was as an on-air reporter for New York tri-state cable outlet Regional News Network, where she worked before the 2010 earthquake struck her native country of Haiti. From March 2008 - September 2009, she lived in Egypt, where her work appeared in various media outlets like the Associated Press, Voice of America, and the International Herald Tribune - Daily News Egypt. She graduated from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism with a Master of Science degree in journalism. She is proficient in French, Spanish, Haitian Creole, and has a working knowledge of Egyptian Colloquial Arabic. Follow her @Jessica_Reports.


JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

Top-ranking Democrat New York Senator Chuck Schumer made a big move on Thursday night. Going against the majority of his party, Schumer says that he will not support the Iran nuclear agreement. Many have pointed to Schumer's close ties to pro-Israeli lobbying group AIPAC as heavily influencing the senator's decision.

Now joining us to help us connect the dots is our guest Zaid Jilani. He's an American blogger and campaigner for the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. Thank you for joining us, Zaid.

ZAID JILANI, STAFF WRITER, ALTERNET: Yeah, great to be here.

DESVARIEUX: So Zaid, you've looked a bit at Schumer's policies. I want to get a sense from you, why is he choosing to challenge President Obama on this?

JILANI: Well, I think the timing of Schumer's announcement was really interesting. He actually put this out around the same time as the Republican debate last night, which means he is sort of trying to have it both ways. He is not wanting to anger the large Democratic base which overwhelmingly supports the deal. He doesn't want to anger President Obama too much, or the Democratic leadership. And he is slated to become the next Senate Democratic leader, after Harry Reid leaves.

But on the other hand, he has cultivated a constituency of folks who are sort of on the right wing of the Jewish community. People who are affiliated with the Israel lobby, the main Israel lobby AIPAC, and also other smaller groups, particularly the Orthodox Jewish right in New York City. And these people just absolutely hate the Iran agreement. They never agreed with even talking to Iran in the first place. So he's sort of caught--I'm sure in his mind he was caught between a rock and a hard place. He didn't want to go against Democrats, but he also didn't want to go against a donor base that he's cultivated.

And ultimately he chose the donor base. But I think the way that he did it, in such a quiet fashion, was timed to try to avoid the backlash that was almost inevitable to this move.

DESVARIEUX: I'm so happy you mentioned the donor base, because money is certainly playing a large part in this narrative. Anti-deal groups like AIPAC have been pouring about $20-40 million into TV advertisements blasting the deal, essentially. Let's take a look at one of those ads.


VOICEOVER: The Iran nuclear deal. Good deal, or bad deal? Iran keeps their nuclear facilities. Military sites can go uninspected. Restrictions end after ten years. Then Iran could build a nuclear weapon in two months. Iran has violated 20 international agreements, and is the leading state sponsor of terrorism. Congress should reject a bad deal. We need a better deal.


DESVARIEUX: So these are some powerful and persuasive ads, with some of them airing in New York. They've certainly had an impact. Schumer's office says that it's received more than 10,000 phone calls against the deal.

Zaid, if he's getting such strong opposition, why shouldn't he as an elected leader be listening to these type of constituents?

JILANI: Well, I think that Schumer, he represents a large and fairly diverse state. I mean, New York has one of the largest economies in the country, certainly one of the states that has, it's sort of a gateway to America. The thing is, is that he has all sorts of constituents. I mean, sure he has people sort of in the right wing of the Jewish community who just do not trust Iran, who feel like we should just do whatever Benjamin Netanyahu says. And yes, they have spent, AIPAC spent over half a million dollars in New York City on these ads telling people to call Schumer and to get him against the deal.

And that's fine. But the thing is the U.S. senator has to represent all of their constituents. And so far I haven't seen any evidence that rank and file Democratic voters in the state of New York, who overwhelmingly voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, oppose his deal with Iran. I'm sure some New Yorkers do, and they're a loud minority and they have resources. But I just, I haven't seen the evidence that most New Yorkers actually oppose this agreement. And I think that Schumer should do his due diligence and try to represent everyone in the state, not just those that are pouring resources into having an uproar over the deal.

DESVARIEUX: And just to give our viewers some perspective, the Los Angeles Jewish Journal actually came out saying that 53 percent of American Jews want the deal to go forward, so that just gives them a little bit of perspective.

But let's switch gears here and talk about Schumer's future. Do you think his leadership future is at risk with this move? I mean, he's been known to raise millions from AIPAC and Wall Street, which is essentially as a leader what you really need to be able to do, bring in campaign dollars. Will this move essentially put him at risk of losing becoming the Senate leader?

JILANI: Well it's interesting in that obviously the forces of [inaud.] are very powerful. But at the same time every Senate Democratic leader has also had to have a strong relationship with grassroots Democratic activists. Almost all of them support the deal with Iran. So for example, last night Move On, which is sort of the largest grassroots progressive movement in the country, Credo Action, which is another very large group in the country, Democracy for America, another very large group founded by Howard Dean, all of these organizations came out and basically said that if Schumer does actually vote against the deal that he's not fit to be leader.

And so I don't think that the Senate Democrats want to have their new leader starting out having a hostile relationship with organizations that also raise millions of dollars for Democrats, who also spur to action hundreds of thousands of members in their organizations who knock on doors, who make phone calls, who do a lot of the grassroots work it takes to elect people.

So I think Schumer may have announced his intention to vote this way, but I think that if they're able to create enough traction around threatening his leadership spot, perhaps saying that Dick Durbin, who supports the deal, or the Senator from Illinois should get the leadership spot instead, I think if enough traction happens on that we could very well see Schumer backing off and just saying okay, I will support the deal after all.

DESVARIEUX: Well Zaid, we'll have to see how this all plays out. It's going to be a very, very interesting review period.

Zaid Jilani, thank you so much for joining us.

JILANI: Thank you.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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