White House spokesman Joshua Earnest said Friday that the Obama administration is disappointed but not surprised by New York Sen. Chuck Schumer’s defection on the Iran nuclear deal.
“It is not new and this is a difference of opinion President Obama and Sen. Schumer have had getting all the way back to 2003,” Earnest said at a daily press briefing, referring to the two Democrats’ opposing positions on the Iraq war.
“That all said, that is why I would describe this as an amount in that was not particularly surprising here at the White House, even if it was disappointing.”
Late Thursday, Schumer announced that he will oppose the deal, in which the administration negotiated with Iran in hopes of curtailing its ability to obtain a nuclear weapon. The defection looms large given that Schumer is expected to take over as Senate majority leader when Harry Reid resigns.
“After deep study, careful thought and considerable soul-searching, I have decided I must oppose the agreement and will vote yes on a motion of disapproval,” Schumer wrote in a post at the website Medium.
The Jewish Democrat said he opposes the deal because he believes “Iran will not change” and that the deal will allow the Islamic regime to obtain sanctions relief “while ultimately retaining its nuclear and non-nuclear power.”
Asked by a reporter if he questions Schumer’s judgement in light of the news, Earnest declined to answer directly. Instead, he characterized the rift as a “difference of opinion” that has existed between Schumer and Obama for more than a decade.
The spokesman also downplayed Schumer’s announcement by saying that a number of Democratic lawmakers have come out in support of the deal.
“It doesn’t change our confidence that we will be able to mobilize a substantial majority of Democrats in both the House and Senate in support of the deal and if necessary to sustain the president’s veto,” Earnest said, naming New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Illinois Sen. Tammy Baldwin as being in the pro-deal camp.
During his remarks Friday, Earnest also found a way to invoke the name of Donald Trump.
“What the president took on directly in his speech is that the individuals who are advocating for the defeat of this agreement are the same people who made the same arguments in 2003 in the march to war against Iraq,” Earnest said. “This includes people like Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and John McCain and more recent newcomers like Tom Cotton and Donald Trump.”
The inclusion of Trump is curious given that he is not an elected official. While the GOP presidential candidate has said he opposes the Iran deal because of the U.S.’s weak negotiation tactics, he has long been critical of the U.S.’s invasion of Iraq.