Rep. Donna F. Edwards criticizes Chris Van Hollen over Iran nuke deal

Rep. Donna F. Edwards on Wednesday criticized her opponent in Maryland's Senate race, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, for "holding his finger to the air" rather than coming out in support of a nuclear agreement with Iran negotiated by the Obama administration.

"Congressman Van Hollen is doing what he does far too often -- holding his finger to the air, and waiting to see which direction the political winds are blowing," Edwards campaign spokesman Benjamin Gerdes said in a statement. "That's not leadership, that's followership."

The new attack line arrived a day after world leaders announced an agreement with Tehran that will allow for inspections of nuclear facilities in the country in exchange for the lifting of some sanctions. Many lawmakers are reviewing the terms of the agreement and have not yet said whether they will vote for it. 

Van Hollen's campaign dismissed the criticism from Edwards.

"While serious people like Congressman Van Hollen and Senators Mikulski and Cardin review the facts about this incredibly important nuclear weapons agreement with Iran, Donna Edwards once again is only interested in political attacks," Sheila O'Connell, Van Hollen's campaign manager said in a statement.

"Marylanders deserve leaders who carefully read agreements that are vitally important to our national security," she added. "Anything short of that makes a mockery of the United States Congress."

Republicans leaders, including House Speaker John Boehner, have been sharply critical of the deal. Perhaps just as important is the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the effort a "mistake of historic proportions," criticism that could give pause to some Jewish voters in the United States.

But some Democrats, including former Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, have come out in support. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is running a presidential campaign to Clinton's left, called it "a victory for diplomacy over saber-rattling."

Edwards' initial reaction to the deal, as outlined in a statement sent from her congressional office on Tuesday, was almost identical to Van Hollen's. Edwards offered a "salute" to Secretary of State John Kerry and Obama for their "relentless pursuit of diplomacy with verification" but did not endorse the plan.

Van Hollen, in his own statement issued later in the day, praised Obama's effort but said he would "confer with people with competing views and perspectives" as he scrutinized the deal.

Later on Tuesday, Edwards published a Tweet calling the agreement "historic" and a "new beginning." She wrote that she was "proud of White House diplomacy." Aides said her more forceful langauge came after having an opportunity to review the deal's terms. 

Edwards' campaign offered its strongest words of support of the deal on Wednesday -- in the statement that also criticized Van Hollen. Gerdes said that Edwards "stands with President Obama and Secretary Clinton, who know that preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon is in America's best interest."

It's no surprise that the Iran agreement has become an issue in Maryland's Senate race, where there has been something of a split among Jewish groups. Edwards has opposed a number of resolutions supported by the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby. On the other hand, she received an endorsement from J Street, a group that supports Israel but differs with Netanyahu on some issues.

The two candidates are running to replace Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Democrat who will retire in 2017. In her own statement on the Iran deal yesterday, Mikulski called the agreement "an important step in preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon" but stopped short of saying she supports it. 

“One of Congress' highest duties is to provide for our national security," she said. "Congress must review this deal in a serious, fact-based and deliberative manner."

Obama is working to sell the agreement to both lawmakers in Congress and the public. In a press conference Wednesday, the president suggested the agreement would put the U.S. in a better position to ensure Iran doesn't obtain a nuclear weapon.

"With this deal, we cut off every single one of Iran's pathways to a nuclear program," Obama said at the White House. "Without a deal, those pathways remain open. Without a deal, those inspections go away."

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