In summer 2015, the nation debated Iran diplomacy. I participated in a town hall discussion hosted by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries in Brooklyn to discuss the proposed Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
That event revealed Jeffries’s constituents’ misgivings about the Iranian government and the deal. They expressed their justified concerns about Iran’s actions, its use of terror across the Middle East and threats to Israel, and its imminent nuclear weaponization.
Jeffries correctly backed the Obama administration’s Iran nuclear pact to check Iran’s nonproliferation.
Jeffries ensured that Iran would be 12 months from nuclear breakout and that invasive international inspections would verify this Iranian pledge by backing the pact. Jeffries courageously advocated for nuclear proliferation diplomacy while addressing constituency concerns.
Five years ago today, former President Donald Trump abruptly abandoned the agreement, leaving Iran 12 days from nuclear breakout and the inspections regime in ruins. Trump liberated Iran’s nuclear program as the regime’s brutality at home and terror abroad grew.
On the fifth anniversary of Trump’s failing “maximum pressure” approach, we may learn from his strategic failures.
Fortunately, President Biden has been using diplomacy to prevent a nuclear-capable Iran, but Trump’s fiasco has made it tougher. With the 2024 election campaign starting, Republicans are unwilling to offer Biden any policy successes, and dialogue with Iran has again become a partisan flashpoint, jeopardizing our greatest chance of averting a nuclear-capable Iran.
Congress is where Jeffries can shine even more. As House Democratic leader, he can defend Biden’s diplomacy against harmful Republican assaults that seek political points, not policy victories.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy recently visited Israel and heard Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fears about Iran’s nuclear advancements and his dogged, unproductive resistance to American engagement. McCarthy, sensing an opportunity, openly suggested asking Netanyahu to speak to Congress if Biden doesn’t invite him on a state visit.
The previous time Republicans did this, in 2015 to oppose the JCPOA, Netanyahu arranged a visit to Congress with then-Republican Speaker John Boehner behind President Obama’s back, weakening Democrats and diplomacy to Republicans’ delight.
Jeffries, who was just in Israel, should keep backing American diplomacy to stop a nuclear-capable Iran.
This is good politics and policy.
Iran diplomacy enjoys overwhelming Democratic backing and a supermajority of American Jewish voters. These folks don’t want partisan politics to thwart a deal or a nuclear Iran. Republicans are politicizing Iran.
As Speaker Emeritus Nancy Pelosi did in 2015, Jeffries should lead Democrats against Republican attempts to make Israel into a political wedge issue by supporting diplomacy. He can achieve this by pushing Congress to block harmful legislation that makes discussions harder and pushes Iran to conduct risky nuclear program measures.
For instance, Congress have filed a measure to indefinitely prolong the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) of 1996, a needless and provocative attempt to limit the president’s negotiation flexibility. No matter how bad their Iran strategy is, Republicans won’t aid the president.
As Iran-U.S. tensions escalate weekly, House Democrats must block and tackle for Biden. Fortunately, Democrats can deflect Republican attempts to compromise national security for political gain.
We need strong leaders like Jeffries to lead again.