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Senate Democrats secure final vote to clinch Obama’s Iran deal

Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland provided the last vote Wednesday that protected President Barack Obama's
         Iran nuclear deal from a Republican-led veto. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland provided the last vote Wednesday that protected President Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal from a Republican-led veto. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama secured a landmark foreign policy victory Wednesday as Senate Democrats amassed enough votes to ensure the Iran nuclear deal survives in Congress, despite ferocious opposition from Republicans and the government of Israel.

Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland became the crucial 34th vote in favor of the agreement.

“No deal is perfect, especially one negotiated with the Iranian regime,” Mikulski said in a statement. She called the accord “the best option available to block Iran from having a nuclear bomb. For these reasons, I will vote in favor of this deal.”

The backing from Mikulski, who is retiring next year, gives supporters the margin they need to uphold an Obama veto of a congressional resolution of disapproval if Republicans pass such a measure later this month.

And it spells failure for opponents of the international agreement who sought to foil it by turning Congress against it. Leading that effort were Israel and its allies in the U.S., who failed to get traction after spending millions of dollars trying.

The agreement signed by Iran, the U.S. and five other world powers limits Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for hundreds of billions of dollars in relief from international sanctions. Republicans and Israeli officials contend that concessions made to Iran could enable the country to wreak havoc throughout the Middle East.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had personally lobbied U.S. lawmakers to block the nuclear pact, will continue fighting the agreement, an Israeli official said.

Marshall Wittmann, spokesman for the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, said his group also would continue rallying opposition to the nuclear agreement.

In a letter delivered to Congress Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry called Israel’s security “sacrosanct,” recounting the billions of dollars the U.S. has provided the Jewish state for missile defense and other security assistance.

The letter was sent as Kerry defended the Iran deal in Philadelphia. His speech was carried live in Iran, an unusual occurrence.

With opposition to the agreement failing to take hold on the Democratic side, supporters may even be able to muster the 41 votes needed to block the disapproval resolution from passing in the first place, sparing Obama from having to use his veto pen. That would require seven of the 10 remaining undeclared senators to decide in favor of the deal.

Only two Democratic senators have come out against — Chuck Schumer of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey — while in recent weeks undeclared Democratic senators, even from Republican-leaning states, have broken in favor one after another.

Even if Congress passes the disapproval resolution, it can’t stop the deal reached by Iran, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. It might help congressionally mandated sanctions remain in place. But the U.N. Security Council endorsed the nuclear deal unanimously in July and outlined how it would lift international sanctions on Iran.

Cory Fritz, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, said, “the White House may have convinced just enough Democrats to back an agreement that legitimizes Iran’s nuclear program.” But the result, he said, “is no win for President Obama.”

The post Senate Democrats secure final vote to clinch Obama’s Iran deal appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Does allowing Arctic offshore drilling undermine Obama’s climate efforts?

A general view of the Exit Glacier is seen at Kenai Fjords National Park in Seward, Alaska, September
         1, 2015. President Barack Obama on Tuesday proposed a faster timetable for buying a new heavy icebreaker for the U.S. Arctic,
         where quickly melting sea ice has spurred more maritime traffic and the United States has fallen far behind Russian resources.
         REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst? - RTX1QNPC

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For more on the president’s trip and some of the issues following him to the Arctic, we turn to Robert Bryce. He’s a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and he has written widely on oil and gas and other energy industries. And Michael Brune, executive director of The Sierra Club, an environmental group.

Michael Brune, I want to start with you and ask you what overall you see as the significance of the president’s visit to the Arctic.

MICHAEL BRUNE, Executive Director, Sierra Club: Well, it’s very significant. The president has made climate change a top priority of his administration in both terms.

And going to the Arctic is a great place to showcase the threats that climate change has, both on the economy, as well as the environment, because there is no place that is warming faster than the Arctic anywhere else around the world.

GWEN IFILL: Robert Bryce, what’s your take on that?

ROBERT BRYCE, Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute: Well, I can’t argue temperature issues.

I think what’s interesting, though, is that the president has given the green light to Shell to drill in Alaskan waters, and I think it’s a pragmatic move. While he is talking about climate change, there is a conflict between some of those climate change discussions and what he said Saturday in his radio address. He said, our economy still has to rely on oil and gas. As long as that’s the case, I believe we should rely more on domestic production than on foreign imports.

And I think that that’s a positive move, and clearly the oil and gas sector has been one of the true bright spots in an otherwise lackluster economy during his presidency.

GWEN IFILL: Michael Brune, is it fair to the president, to the White House to judge his environmental record by this decision on drilling, or is that actually a dark spot on another — on a record in which he’s reducing greenhouse gas emissions and taking other actions?

MICHAEL BRUNE: I think it’s fair to say that the president has done a lot on climate, and it’s also fair to say that his record is far from perfect.

One of the things that the president has done has been able to help us to curb our oil consumption by making our cars and trucks and all vehicles more fuel-efficient. He’s also begun to lead us away from coal in the production of electricity and natural gas and to shift more towards clean renewable energy.

But drilling in the Arctic is just the wrong way to go, and it threatens to undermine a lot of the progress that the president has made.

GWEN IFILL: Let me ask Robert Bryce about that, because you see it as an unalloyed good.

But we did a story not too long ago on this program about the oil glut, about the increase in shale production.


GWEN IFILL: Why is there a need for additional offshore oil drilling in Alaska?

ROBERT BRYCE: Well, I will make a quick point.

And one is that Alaskan energy has been a strategic issue for the U.S. now for close to a century. Remember, it was 1923 when President Harding designated the Naval Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. So, this idea of Arctic drilling is hardly new. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge of course has been a flash point now for decades, but we have been drilling in Alaska for decades, for the most part very safely.

But as far as the broader gain here I think that the president is looking toward as well is the enormous amounts of recoverable energy resources in the Arctic. The Department of Energy estimates them at something on the order of 400 billion barrels of oil equivalent in natural gas and oil. That’s four times the crude oil reserves of Kuwait.

So for the U.S. to just forgo the Arctic resource at this time, I think it would be a big mistake.

GWEN IFILL: Let me let Michael Brune respond to that.

MICHAEL BRUNE: Yes, thanks.

So, drilling in the Arctic might have been a good idea back in 1923, but it’s 2015. The world has changed, and we should change with it. Scrambling with Russia to race to see who can drill in the Arctic first is like racing to see who can light the fuse on a time bomb.

You know, supremacy in the Arctic shouldn’t be defined by who gets to destroy it first.


GWEN IFILL: Go ahead. Go ahead.

MICHAEL BRUNE: Well, I was going to say, we have an ability right now to rebuild our economy in the 21st century and do it in a way that doesn’t poison our air, doesn’t poison our water, doesn’t put our entire climate at risk.

And that is by investing in clean energy, which I will say to Robert is growing at a much faster rate than the rest of the economy, particularly the oil and gas industry.


MICHAEL BRUNE: Sorry. Go ahead.

GWEN IFILL: Well, I was just curious. I want to ask you both this.


GWEN IFILL: Is there a reason why those two things can’t coexist; that is, increased drilling and increased clean energy and reducing emissions and reducing dependence on coal? Why isn’t that — why can’t that all work together for good?

I will start with you.

ROBERT BRYCE: Well, I will make two points.

One is that natural gas has been a critical part in the U.S. reducing CO2 emissions. The Sierra Club is anti-fracking. Natural gas displacing coal in the domestic electric generation sector has been a key factor in the fact that the U.S. has reduced its CO2 emissions by 500 million tons over the last decade alone. It’s more than any other country in the world, including Germany.

Further, if we’re serious about clean energy and serious about climate change, we should be serious about nuclear energy. The Sierra Club is adamantly opposed, has been adamantly opposed…

GWEN IFILL: Well, let me let The Sierra Club respond to that.

ROBERT BRYCE: … since 1970, even though nuclear is reducing CO2 emissions more than any other form of energy.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Bryce [sic]


Well, how about I state the Sierra Club’s policy? We look at all energy sources with a few different criteria. What’s the cheapest, what’s the cleanest, and what can come online the quickest?

And what we know is that nuclear power actually ranks dead last in all of those categories. What we also know is that clean energy is dropping in cost as it increases in installations. The more clean energy that gets installed, the lower the costs get, whereas fossil fuels are becoming more and more expensive, with the current exception of oil right now.

What are seeing across the United States is that, increasingly, communities are moving past coal, beyond natural gas and, in some cases, beyond nuclear power. Investing in energy efficiency, investing in solar and wind, they are cutting costs, they are saving rate-payers money, and they’re helping to stabilize the climate and reduce air and water pollution.

What is not to like about that? We can build an economy on clean energy. We shouldn’t be investing in dirty oil, particularly from the Arctic.

GWEN IFILL: Do I see an agreement coming from the other side there?

ROBERT BRYCE: Well, look, there is no question I’m adamantly in favor of natural gas.

As I said, it’s been a key factor in the U.S. reducing CO2 emissions. But the hard reality is what the president said. We need oil and gas. Globally, there are one billion automobiles. We have roughly 400,000 airplanes, tens of thousands of boats. All of them run on oil. The idea that we’re just going to quit using oil is simply not true.

The Sierra Club has been spinning this idea that we can just run the world on renewables. It’s simply not true. It hasn’t been true, won’t be true. We need oil and gas.

GWEN IFILL: Well, I don’t think that’s necessarily what the president is saying, which is what we are talking about today.

But we’re going to leave it there for now.

Robert Bryce of the Manhattan Institute and Michael Brune of The Sierra Club, thank you both very much.

ROBERT BRYCE: Thank you.

MICHAEL BRUNE: Thanks for having us on.

The post Does allowing Arctic offshore drilling undermine Obama’s climate efforts? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Supporting deal, Sen. Casey says Iran is far too close to a nuclear weapon right now

bob casey

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JUDY WOODRUFF: But, first, President Obama now is one Senate vote away from clinching the Iran nuclear deal. Opponents need 67 votes to block the agreement. That’s enough votes to override an expected presidential veto. To win out, the president therefore needs 34 votes.

Today, his total reached 33, thanks to the support of two Senate Democrats, Chris Coons of Delaware and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. The controversial accord aims to restrict Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Senator Casey joins us now from Capitol Hill.

Senator Casey, thank you for being here.

This deal has been the subject of millions of dollars worth of negative advertising, a lobbying campaign. You have spent a lot of months looking at it. Why the decision to support it?

SEN. BOB CASEY (D), Pennsylvania: Well, Judy, fundamentally, the decision was because you have to decide up or down on this agreement as it relates to the basic question of how do we stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, short term and long term, short term because they are just two to three months from so-called breakout, having enough fissile material for a bomb.

So that weighed on me heavily. What’s the best way to do that? You either have to vote for the agreement or vote against it. I think voting for it is in furtherance of the goal of preventing them from getting a nuclear weapon.

There are other reasons as well that I can outline, some of them involving the constraints that are put on this — the Iran nuclear program for the long term. But, principally, you get back to that basic question about stopping them from developing a nuclear weapon.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For how long?

SEN. BOB CASEY: Well, certainly, even the opponents would concede that that ability to constrain their program goes for a decade, if not longer.

And after a decade, even after the constraints begin to be lifted, what Iran is supposed to do at that point is, if they choose to, to develop a civilian nuclear program for nuclear power. If they do something other than that and take steps to develop a nuclear weapon, then we have a whole range of options

And one of the reasons I spent so much time on the deterrence issue is because of my concerns about the out-years.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me ask you about another argument that was made. Last night, Gwen on the NewsHour interviewed Stephen Rademaker. He’s a former U.S. arms controls negotiator.

And, among other things, he said experts have said for decades that if Iran is allowed to become a threshold nuclear weapons state, that will stimulate what he called a cascade of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, that as soon as Iran has this capability, that other states are going to want to join and have the exact same ability.

SEN. BOB CASEY: Well, I think we’re at now — Judy, we’re at a point where they are a threshold nuclear state right now. They are two to three months from having enough fissile material to get a bomb.

Step two after fissile material is getting the device made, and then weaponizing it. So they are far too close right now. And what we don’t want to have is the worst of all worlds, where we walk away from this substantial effort that we have led for years, telling everyone in our coalition to make sacrifices and impose sanctions and live by those sanctions and put pressure on Iran, then we walk away, if the deal were not voted in favor of.

We walk away. Then the interim agreement falls, so there is virtually no lights on their program, no surveillance, the inspectors go. And all the while, going forward, they would get sanctions relief from other countries in a sense. So the worst of all worlds is they have a stronger economy because of some of that sanctions relief, plus that they’re very close to developing a nuclear weapon or even have one, and then you have the worst of all worlds.

That’s the fastest way to greater danger and I think proliferation in the region.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How hard was it to go against the — again, the fierce Israeli argument, the argument by Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu, that this threatens Israel’s existence?

SEN. BOB CASEY: Well, I — from the very beginning and throughout my eight-and-a-half years in the Senate, I have worked very hard to make sure that we take steps to secure Israel.

And, ultimately, the backstop or the fortification for this agreement and for Israel’s security is our own capability. We’re the only country in the world that has the military capability to take out Iran’s program today, tomorrow and into the future. That’s the ultimate backstop for Israel.

I think there is a perfect alignment between what we should do for our own security and ensuring the security of Israel. I don’t think they are discordant in any way. I believe the agreement enhances our national security and also enhances the security of Israel and the region.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I just finally want to ask you about — and very quickly — as we reported earlier, Democrats supporting the president are now just one vote away from having enough votes to block an attempt to override a presidential veto, should it come to that.

Any doubt in your mind now that supporters are going to get those additional — that additional vote?

SEN. BOB CASEY: I would be very surprised if that vote wasn’t forthcoming. I don’t know the exact numbers or what remaining — how remaining senators will vote. But I think, if I had to make an educated guess, I would say we have enough votes to sustain a veto.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, we thank you very much.

SEN. BOB CASEY: Thank you, Judy.

The post Supporting deal, Sen. Casey says Iran is far too close to a nuclear weapon right now appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

CNN amends debate criteria, Fiorina may get in

Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina at a Fox-sponsored forum for lower polling candidates in August. Photo
         by Brian Snyder/Reuters

Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina at a Fox-sponsored forum for lower polling candidates in August. Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

WASHINGTON — CNN on Tuesday amended its criteria for the next Republican presidential debate, giving former technology executive Carly Fiorina a better chance at appearing in the Sept. 16 primetime affair.

The news network announced the change following weeks of public pressure from Fiorina and her supporters.

Fiorina, the only woman in the GOP field, likely would not have been among the top 10 candidates on the debate stage as determined by the original terms, which relied on national polling conducted between July 16 and Sept. 10. The new terms add any candidate who ranks in the top 10 in polling between Aug. 6 and Sept. 10 — a period that better reflects Fiorina’s rise in the polls.

The shift raises the possibility of more than 10 candidates on the stage for the GOP’s second formal debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library later in the month.

“We now believe we should adjust the criteria to ensure the next debate best reflects the most current state of the national race,” CNN said in a statement.

The Fiorina campaign and the Republican National Committee praised the move.

“I applaud CNN for recognizing the historic nature of this debate and fully support the network’s decision to amend their criteria,” said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.

In a message posted on Twitter, Fiorina aide Sarah Isgur Flores thanked “the thousands of grassroots supporters and conservative activists around the country who weren’t afraid to take on the political establishment and challenge the status quo to make this happen.”

“We look forward to watching (Fiorina) debate the other front-runners at the Reagan Library,” Flores said.

While Fiorina has been rising in the polls, her place on the debate stage is not assured.

The final participants won’t be announced until Sept. 10.

The post CNN amends debate criteria, Fiorina may get in appeared first on PBS NewsHour.