WASHINGTON — Rep. Steny Hoyer will support the pending nuclear agreement with Iran despite "serious concerns," he said Wednesday, and he called for a congressional oversight commission to monitor the deal's implementation.
The Southern Maryland lawmaker, the second-highest ranking Democrat in the House, said the nuclear deal is "not one which I would have negotiated, nor one I think should have been agreed to." But he said he would support it to send a signal of unity to U.S. allies.
"No matter how deep, how personal, and how sincere my concerns about this agreement are, they ultimately do not outweigh the need for a united position on Iran," Hoyer said in a statement. "We must stand together to confront the threats from Iran. If we do not, there will be very consequential and long-term global ramifications."
Though the outcome of the debate over the nuclear deal has been set since Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski announced last week she would be the final vote the White House needed to sustain a veto, Hoyer's position was far from clear. A centrist voice in his caucus, his decision to come out for the deal could convince other wavering Democrats.
Under the agreement, negotiated by the United States, Iran, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, Iran would allow stronger inspections of nuclear sites in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
In Maryland, two Democrats — Reps. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Baltimore County and John Delaney of Montgomery County — have yet to announce a position. Sen. Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Andy Harris, the state's only Republican in Congress, oppose the deal. Reps. John Sarbanes, Donna F. Edwards, Elijah E. Cummings and Chris Van Hollen support it.
The Republican-led House is expected to vote on a resolution of disapproval later this week. Obama has said he would veto such a resolution, and the White House has rallied Democrats to sustain a veto. Dozens remain undecided.
Hoyer, in a statement that was notably negative, voiced concern about punishment for minor breaches of the deal, which are not specifically addressed. He called the decision to lift restrictions on conventional weapons imports to Iran "deeply disturbing." He said he is worried Tehran will use billions of dollars from lifted sanctions to destabilize the region.
Underscoring his thoughts on the deal, Hoyer didn't say he supports the agreement — only that he would vote against a resolution to disappove of it.
"I do not believe this deal does enough to offset the high probability that Iran will use its financial gain to threaten the United States, Israel, and our European and Gulf allies by other means," he said. "Iran will be emboldened by this deal to expand exactly those activities of greatest concern to the United States and our partners."
Hoyer laid out ideas he thought might strengthen the agreement, including a congressional oversight panel to monitor breaches of the agreement. Such a commission would likely exert pressure on leaders to respond if Iran deviates from its commitments.
"Determined, robust, unwavering, and unambiguous commitment to the objectives set forth by both Congress and the administration will be necessary if the [agreement] is not simply to become a delay in Iran's efforts to become a nuclear weapon nation," Hoyer said.