A crowd of several thousand on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol grounds Wednesday cheered when Republican presidential hopefuls Ted Cruz and Donald Trump criticized the nuclear arms deal with Iran.
The crowd also booed heartily at the mere mention of Republican congressional leaders, who at that moment inside the Republican-led Senate were debating a disapproval measure against the agreement.
The rally under a broiling September sun underscored the anger against political business-as-usual that Trump’s candidacy has channeled, and that Cruz, a senator from Texas, is trying to take advantage of as he and the GOP’s 2016 front-runner shared the stage and played to the crowd.
The rally to build opposition to the agreement organized by the Tea Party Patriots and attended by more than 300 Jewish Orthodox rabbis, who oppose the nuclear agreement, came as Congress is scheduled to vote on the plan to limit Iran’s nuclear capability this week.
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While the presence of Trump, in particular, drew attention to the issue, presidential politics took a backseat to congressional politics.
Republicans in both houses are overwhelmingly against the agreement, but disagree on tactics. Some of the lawmakers who oppose the deal are battling Republican congressional leaders because of the sense of a White House fait accompli that hangs over the bill: 42 Senate Democrats support the White House, enough to seemingly ensure that it takes effect.
Senate Republican leaders rejected a last-minute proposal by Cruz, to delay consideration of a resolution against the agreement until the Obama administration produces the detail of the so-called “side agreements” that are part of the entire package.
“Iran has gotten everything it wanted from this deal,” Cruz said in the Senate before the rally. “This deal is without any credible inspection mechanism.”
In the House, a cadre of conservative lawmakers led by Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., offered a similar argument, rebelling against their leadership’s intention to move to a quick vote on the deal, perhaps by Friday. They ground deliberations of the disapproval resolution to an abrupt halt Wednesday morning after threatening not to support a procedural vote on the measure.
It presented House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, yet another political headache and back-bench challenge to his leadership.
“We’re going to do all we can to continue to try to stop this bad deal,” he said.
Outside, Trump scoffed at the Iran deal. “We are led by very, very stupid people,” he said.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin who also spoke, called it “insane.”
"You don't reward terrorism, you kill it,” the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee said.
Meanwhile, at raucous party conference meetings, lawmakers complained that President Barack Obama hasn’t provided Congress with the side agreements regarding inspections between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The administration has said that it does not possess the materials Republicans have requested because the side agreements are between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency, and not between Iran and the U.S. and its five negotiating partners.
House Republicans eventually settled on a three-part package that would include a bill that says the White House did not submit the entire agreement with Iran, another that would attempt to prevent Obama from lifting sanctions against Iran, and a resolution on whether to approve the Iran anti-nuclear deal.
Time is a factor. Under the Iran Nuclear Review Act, which Obama signed in May, Congress has 60 days – which expires Sept. 17– to pass the resolution. Republicans critics counter that the 60-day clock hasn’t started because the White House hasn’t turned over all documents opponents claim are related.
“As I understand (the) law, once Sept. 17 passes is it not the case that the president will take the view that he is free to go forward” and lift sanctions against Iran as part of the agreement, said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
According to a new Pew Research Center poll released Tuesday, only 21 percent of the public support the deal, a decline of 33 percent who approved of it in July. Almost half of those surveyed, 49 percent, disapprove of the agreement, while 30 percent gave no opinion.
The survey showed a deep partisan split, with 42 percent of Democrats approving of the deal and only 6 percent of Republicans supporting it.
“We’re here to stop this deal because it guarantees that the Iranians will have a nuclear weapon,” said Luis Villar, 68, a plastic surgeon who flew to the capital from Stuart, Fla., for the anti-deal rally at the Capitol. “These guys are an Armageddon type of philosophy where they’re looking to create a massive war in the Middle East so they can all go to paradise.”
“I’m here because this deal is just so disastrous for our country,” said Stephanie Coleman, 48, from Austin, Texas. “I actually expected more people to be here.”
Vera Bergengruen contributed to this report.