WASHINGTON — Sen. Robert Menendez, a prominent Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced Tuesday that he will vote against the Obama administration’s nuclear agreement with Iran.
Menendez, of New Jersey, is the second prominent Senate Democrat to publicly oppose the deal before next month’s vote, following Sen. Charles Schumer of New York.
His announcement, made in a speech at Seton Hall University, is a potential setback for the administration as it seeks the support of enough Democrats to prevent Congress from overriding Obama’s planned veto of any resolution that would sink the agreement. But it was not a surprise. Menendez has been very critical of the deal finalized in Vienna last month, and he was seen as unlikely to be won over by the White House.
“If Iran is to acquire a nuclear bomb, it will not have my name on it,” Menendez said in an advance copy of his speech. Menendez said he not only will vote against the Iran agreement but also would vote to override a veto.
So far, 21 of the 34 senators needed in the Senate to block an override of an Obama veto have announced their support for the deal, in which Iran accepts restrictions on its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.
Administration officials have said they are optimistic about their chances. But Obama has continued to lobby lawmakers by phone during his two-week vacation in Martha’s Vineyard. White House allies, including some Jewish-American groups, have joined the effort to win Democratic support.
On Tuesday morning, more than 70 arms control and nonproliferation experts endorsed the deal in a letter released by the Arms Control Association, a nonpartisan group based in Washington. And on Monday, a letter signed by 340 rabbis was released in support of the deal.
But opponents are mounting a fierce counterassault, including other groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which has launched a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign against the deal.