Washington (CNN)Sen. Angus King of Maine said Wednesday that he planned to support the Iran deal pushed by the White House, giving President Barack Obama one more vote in his quest to cobble enough support to sustain an expected veto.
Angus King becomes latest senator to back Iran deal
King, an independent from Maine who caucuses with Democrats, told CNN's Brianna Keilar on "The Situation Room" Wednesday that the choice was "literally the hardest decision I've ever had to make."
"It's really easy to take an agreement like this, or any other agreement, and say, 'Oh, it's terrible. It's got this hole or that hole,'" said King, who sits on the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee. "The real question, though, is compared to what? What are the alternatives?"
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Wednesday that the chamber would begin the debate on the deal on Sept. 8 ahead of deadline for a vote on Sept. 17. Republicans are expected to pass a resolution disagreeing with the deal struck by Obama to rein in Iran's nuclear capabilities, though the text has not yet been unveiled.
Obama will need much of his party to support the deal in order for his anticipated veto to hold. Obama has been aggressively lobbying for the deal both in Congress and via the bully pulpit, characterizing his GOP critics in a speech Wednesday as no different than hawkish hardliners who pushed feverishly for war in Iraq.
"If Congress kills this is deal, we will lose more than just constraints on Iran's nuclear program or the sanctions we have painstakingly built," Obama said. "We will have lost something more precious: America's credibility as a leader of diplomacy. America's credibility as the anchor of the international system."
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut said Wednesday that he would back the White House, but the plans of other key Democrats are less clear.
New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez, former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has not officially announced he will oppose the deal, but he has been strongly critical.
Maryland's Ben Cardin, the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is still undecided, and is a critical voice along with New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, who is in line to serve as the Democratic leader next year when Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada retires.
Other Democrats still studying the deal include Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and John Tester of Montana.
Only one Republican on Capitol Hill, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, has left open the possibility he could back the deal, and he said on Wednesday he was still evaluating it. But in a speech on the Senate floor, he struck a negative tone -- outlining a series of concerns and urging the administration to back legislation that clarified key provisions of the agreement.
"The bottom line is that I can only support an agreement that can endure," Flake said.
At least five other House Democrats said Wednesday they would endorse the agreement, including Mike Thompson of California, Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Earl Blumenauer and Peter DeFazio of Oregon.