Women Saved the Iran Deal From Washington's Bickering Do-Nothing Men


On Wednesday morning, Sen. Barbara Ann Mikulski (D-Md.) announced her support of the Iran nuclear deal, becoming the 34th Senate Democrat to do so. At this point, President Barack Obama has enough votes to sustain his veto of a promised resolution of disapproval from the Republicans. In other words, barring some unforeseen catastrophe, this deal is going through.

Throughout the months-long debate, women have largely led the way, both in the negotiations and in doing the work to help ensure the deal’s success in Washington (including calling out Republican bullshit).

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman (once referred to as an “iron fist in a velvet glove”) worked as the lead U.S. negotiator with Tehran and is largely responsible for actually finalizing the terms of the deal.

In Washington, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has been at the helm of the effort to ensure Democratic support for the deal, making a major push to whip undecided Democrats this summer, and sending out email blasts every time a Democrat publicly supports the deal. Pelosi also enlisted a team of at least 12 other Democrats to help make calls.

In an interview with The Hill, team member Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said she spoke with Pelosi almost every day about the effort, that they divided up their targets to maximize efficacy, and that she was “particularly calling women.”

Schakowsky also co-wrote a letter to Obama along with Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Tx.) and Rep. David Price (D-N.C.). “We must not let Iran develop or possess a nuclear weapon, and I firmly believe that diplomacy is the best way to achieve that goal,” she said in a press release accompanying the letter. “I also believe that we must do whatever we can to ensure that the negotiators have the space they need to mold the announced framework into a long-term, verifiable and enforceable agreement.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has responded forcefully to numerous Republican attempts to undermine the deal. In a July hearing, Boxer defended Secretary of State John Kerry from Republican claims that he was “fleeced” and “bamboozled” in Iran negotiations.

“If you were bamboozled, the world has been bamboozled,” she said.

In March, she responded to Republicans’ open letter to the leaders of Iran with a statement:

This is a brazen attempt by Senate Republicans to sabotage negotiations aimed at preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. This bizarre, inappropriate letter is a desperate ploy to scuttle a comprehensive agreement and the chance for a peaceful resolution, which is in the best interests of the United States, Israel and the world.”

Her colleague Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) responded with comparable outrage:

I am appalled at the latest step of 47 Republicans to blow up a major effort by our country and the world powers to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the Iranian nuclear program.
This is a highly inappropriate and unprecedented incursion into the president’s prerogative to conduct foreign affairs and is not befitting this chamber. The letter only serves one purpose — to destroy an ongoing negotiation to reach a diplomatic agreement in its closing days.

Schakowsky also chimed in in dissent of the letter, and Sen. Mark Kirk’s comparison between the deal and Nazi appeasement, saying, “That letter was reckless and irresponsible and it even was rejected by the Republican Chairman on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And now Kirk has taken his extreme rhetoric one step further by comparing this peaceful negotiation with Nazi appeasement.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) recently came out in support of the deal, noting that “it is more dangerous to Israel, America and our allies to walk away in the face of unified worldwide support.” Even Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has stood strong in support of the deal against her pro-Israel senior colleague Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) — not just one of the most prominent Democrats in the country, but also a probable future party leader — who refuses to endorse the deal.

Before the the women of Congress got to work, Schumer’s decision seemed to open the door for conservative and hawkish Democrats to oppose the deal the deal. Now, Mikulski’s added support ensures that the deal will survive Republican challenge.

“No deal is perfect, especially one negotiated with the Iranian regime,” she said in a statement. “I have concluded that this Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is the best option available to block Iran from having a nuclear bomb. For these reasons, I will vote in favor of this deal. However, Congress must also reaffirm our commitment to the safety and security of Israel.”

There are 104 female members of the 114th Congress, which is a fairly paltry fraction of the 535 voting members that make up the governing body. The women who have won seats, however, are governing by different rules than the men, often by necessity. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) once said that female politicking is “much less about ego and much more about problem-solving.”

In fact, studies have quantified this increased efficacy: Women in the minority party are about 33 percent more effective at passing bills according to a study published in the American Journal of Political Science.

Regardless, time and time again, women have had to fight to be the active forces in government — think of what could be accomplished when that fraction starts to approach one half.

Contact the author at [email protected].

From left: Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Rep Jane Shakowsky, and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman. Images via Getty.

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