WASHINGTON — The political fate of the Iranian nuclear deal now seems all but assured, but that did little to tamp down the drama surrounding the agreement inside and outside the Capitol on Wednesday.
Conservative groups opposing the deal — as varied as the Tea Party Patriots, the Center for Security Policy and the Zionist Organization of America — gathered in sweltering D.C. heat to air their grievances at a raucous rally on the West Lawn of the Capitol.
The event, attended by thousands of protesters, also featured GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz and, by his invitation, his rival business mogul Donald Trump.
Israeli flags, American flags and others bearing the “Don’t tread on me” insignia adopted by the tea party movement flew in the air — as did apocalyptic pronouncements of what would happen if Congress approved the deal. Others waved homemade signs, including one that read “#JewishLivesMatter. Ask God.”
“If you vote to send billions of dollars to jihadists who have pledged to murder Americans, then you bear direct responsibility for the murders carried out with the dollars you have given,” Cruz said, referring to lifting sanctions on Iran. “You cannot wash your hands of that blood.”
Under legislation passed earlier this year, Congress has 60 days, until Sept. 17, to review the pact and pass a resolution endorsing or rejecting the agreement. Forty-two Senate Democrats have said they will support the deal and vote down a resolution of disapproval, ensuring that President Barack Obama will not have to use his veto authority to enact the agreement.
Cruz nevertheless said it was not too late to change hearts and minds.
“Right now today, 42 Senate Democrats have come out in support of this deal,” he said. “It is my hope and prayer that every one of those Senate Democrats reconsiders, that they go home and fall to their knees and pray tonight.”
Trump kept his remarks brief and general, offering no specific solutions for how to derail the agreement but assuring rally attendees that the situation would vastly improve under his presidency.
“We are led by very, very stupid people, stupid people, and we cannot let it continue,” he said. “It will change. We will have so much winning if I get elected, you may get bored with winning.”
Inside the Capitol, GOP lawmakers opposed to the deal appeared to struggle to come up with a strategy to move forward. House Republican leaders were forced to postpone a vote on a resolution of disapproval after facing an insurgency from some of their party’s conservative members, who insisted that the 60-day review period Congress was entitled to has not begun, because the Obama administration has not submitted side agreements between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
“The clock does not begin ticking until the president hands over the entire deal, and he has not handed over the side agreements,” Cruz said.
Trump supporter and protest attendee Larry Goldsmith, 58, said he was disgruntled by the process through which the Iran deal was being passed, with only a minority of Senators in support.
“We need only 42 people for this big of a decision? I think it should be a whole lot more. The people here should have a voice in this too, and we’re not getting that,” he said. “It’s insane.”
Supporters of the deal affiliated with anti-war groups were also on hand for the rally, urging lawmakers to try diplomacy rather than war.
Coriann Atkins, 77, a volunteer with CodePink, a pacifist group, said she believed the fearmongering at the gathering was the result of rampant misinformation.
“I’m stunned. It’s just garbage and lies,” she said. “We may not change their minds because they’re so badly informed. But for the Democrats that have not decided yet and the Republicans that have not decided yet, if there is a small chance to influence them, it is important to do that, and we have to make this effort.”