All but one of the six candidates seeking the Democratic nomination from District 8 said this week that, were they currently seated in Congress, they would have voted in favor of the controversial agreement on Iran’s nuclear capabilities negotiated by the Obama administration.
Only the latest entrant in the Democratic primary contest, David Anderson of Potomac—an official of a Washington-based internship and seminar program—said he would have voted against the deal, declaring that “the United States can and should do better.” Charged Anderson, who formally declared his candidacy for the seat last weekend: “Unfortunately, the deal that they arrived at gives too much away all at once and without any safeguards to protect the United States and our closest ally in the Middle East, Israel.”
But the District 8 Democratic contenders supporting the agreement, while generally acknowledging it is imperfect, contended it was best deal that could be obtained—and would dramatically reduce the chance of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons in the future.
“I think it’s a good deal. I support it and our president for having negotiated it,” Del. Kumar Barve of Rockville said. Referring to the five other nations—four of them members of the United Nations Security Council—that are parties to the agreement, Barve contended: “I do not think the alternative is a return to the negotiating table because it’s very clear to me that both Russia and China would leave the sanctions regime, and I believe Germany and France would be very close behind them.” He was referring to economic sanctions now directed at Iran.
Barve’s comments came in the wake of a vote on the agreement in the U.S. House late last week, during which all Democratic members of the Maryland delegation voted in favor of the deal—including Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who is vacating the District 8 seat to seek to succeed retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski.
While the Republican-controlled House voted Sept. 11 to disapprove the agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the vote was largely symbolic—since Senate Democratic proponents of the deal had blocked passage of a disapproval resolution a day earlier. Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin was one of just four Democrats to side with all Senate Republicans in voting to disapprove the agreement.
Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez of Chevy Chase said she had joined two of her General Assembly colleagues late last month on a conference call with Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, during which she said they “unfortunately” failed to convince him to support the agreement.
Besides Barve and Gutierrez, three other candidates in the District 8 race—state Sen. Jamie Raskin of Takoma Park, former Marriott International executive Kathleen Matthews of Chevy Chase, and former Obama administration official Will Jawando of Silver Spring—all indicated they would have voted in favor of the deal. (Former County Council member Valerie Ervin of Silver Spring, who also had been seeking the District 8 Democratic nomination, announced Thursday morning that she was dropping out of the contest.)
With the April primary more than seven months away, the political fallout from the controversy over the Iran nuclear deal remains unclear in District 8—which is largely based in Montgomery County, but also includes portions of Frederick and Carroll counties. Several leading national Jewish organizations lobbied strongly for Congress to reject the agreement, although some public opinion polling showed that a majority of American Jews favor the deal. The U.S. Census does not collect information on religious affiliation, but available data indicates that 10 percent or more of Montgomery County’s population is Jewish.
Given the sensitivity toward the agreement among some portions of the local Democratic electorate, several of those supporting it were careful not to dismiss the concerns of the deal’s opponents.
Raskin was the first of the District 8 Democratic candidates to publicly support the agreement, issuing a detailed statement on the issue at the end of August.
“I have spoken to several members of Congress about the agreement, consulted numerous foreign policy experts who reside in our community, read everything I could find from competing perspectives, and talked at length to 8th District residents on all sides of the debate,” said Raskin, adding, “Everything that I have learned leads me to believe that the agreement represents our best chance to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.”
While saying that critics of the deal have “raised valid points that should be neither scoffed at nor dismissed out of hand,” Raskin contended, “Most nuclear experts agree—and this is a point I have been focused on—that if Iran attempts to cheat, we will catch them.”
Jawando took a similar tack in a statement issued Wednesday. While saying the agreement “represents the most realistic diplomatic option to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and is in the best interest of our nation and allies,” he added: “I realize the very real fears and uncertainties many individuals have about this agreement. As your representative in Congress, I'm committed to holding Iran accountable to the requirements of this deal and stand ready to work with Israel and our allies to do what is necessary to ensure Iran never acquires a nuclear bomb.”
By the same token, Anderson—a former George Washington University faculty member making his first run for political office—was conciliatory toward the Obama administration, saying, “I support a diplomatic approach and applaud the efforts of the administration to come to an agreement.” But he complained that the deal “immediately provides Iran with over $100 billion in sanctions relief without any tie to their compliance,” adding, “that Iran will still have nuclear weaponized capabilities within 10 to 15 years is just unacceptable.”
Matthews, another first-time candidate for political office, expressed some skepticism toward the agreement when questioned Tuesday during a meeting of the District 18 Democratic Breakfast Club.
“I am a person who is predisposed to diplomacy: If there was a diplomatic pathway, I thought it should be given every consideration. But I was very concerned: was this deal verifiable? ” she responded. “I listened to people like Ben Cardin, who were concerned that it wasn’t. But I also listened to people like Chris Van Hollen…who said this is an imperfect deal but it may be the best option we have toward peace, and it may get us in 10 years toward a better place.”
She continued: “And so the deal is going through. I think what we need to make sure now is that there is scrutiny beyond anything we have ever seen….that we have a philosophy of mistrust and verifiability in this deal.” Pressed on whether this meant she would have voted for the agreement, Matthews paused briefly and then replied, “Ultimately, I think I would have voted in favor of the deal.”