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Rep. Steve Israel Condemns Use Of Iran Nuclear Deal As A 'Cheap, Partisan Stunt'

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Now that President Obama has prevailed over opponents of the Iran nuclear deal, he and his party and his administration have some fence mending to look forward to. One House Democrat who opposed the deal is Steve Israel of New York, and he has joined with fellow Democrat Sander Levin of Michigan who supported the deal in an op-ed that says, in part, the partisan rhetoric we have seen throughout this debate needs to come to an end. And Rep. Israel joins us from Capitol Hill. Welcome to the program once again.

STEVE ISRAEL: Thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: There's talk among some conservative House Republicans of taking various steps against the Iran deal, taking President Obama to court for, they say, not providing all the details of the agreement or proposing new sanctions targeting Iran's revolutionary guards. Do agree that it's still time to, in effect, oppose the Iran deal by other means, or is it time to give this deal a chance now?

ISRAEL: Well, it's time to get back to the substance of cooperation between the United States and Israel. What concerns me, as an opponent of the deal, is that many of my Republican colleagues are going to continue to use Israel as a political and partisan football. I oppose the deal. I voted against the deal. I spoke against the deal. It's now clear that the deal is done, and so we have two choices in Congress.

We can work together, bring people who supported and opposed the deal to a table - Democrats and Republicans - to discuss how we structure a post-deal environment that will keep Israel strong in the United States secure, or we can continue to use this deal as a cheap partisan stunt. I suggest that the latter does no service to the state of Israel.

SIEGEL: How would you weigh the idea of new sanctions. Let's say if they were viewed by Iran as undermining this deal and their commitment to it, would that be reason for you to oppose new sanctions, or can you imagine a bill that you could support?

ISRAEL: It depends on how those sanctions are calibrated. It depends on the substance. Let me give you one example. Instead of simply having a vote today where members of Congress could approve or disapprove the bill, they decided not to double-down but to triple-down. And so they introduced another bill that would not allow the president to remove sanctions. The problem with that bill is that it expires on the last day of the Obama administration. Now, that is just overt partisan politics. It's irresponsible, and it reminds us that the Republicans will continue to go too far to try and exploit differences.

SIEGEL: The op-ed that you wrote for The Hill with Sander Levin is headlined, "Two Jewish Congressmen On The Post-Deal Environment." As it turned out, more Jewish House members and senators voted for this deal than against it - and that, despite Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu coming to Congress, despite a big campaign by AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby. Did Netanyahu overplay his hand in this issue?

ISRAEL: Look. I have always rejected the argument that members of Congress cast their vote because they're Jewish or not Jewish. I didn't cast my vote as a Jewish member of Congress. I cast my vote as a member of Congress. I make my decisions and my judgments not based on what a prime minister of another country says, but based on what my principles tell me, what my DNA - how may DNA guides me.

SIEGEL: But as you know, though the Netanyahu rule here - the role here was very unusual - coming to address the Congress to oppose the sitting president's policies. Was that something that just went beyond precedent and perhaps good relations with Israel?

ISRAEL: I think, on both sides of this deal, on both sides of this issue, to a great extent, there was a tendency to overplay hands. And what we have to do now is get everybody together. So the Prime Minister of Israel will be in New York at the General Assembly. This is an opportunity for he and for the president of the United States to reset the rhetoric and to focus on the road ahead rather than, you know, potential animosities and grievances that occurred in the past. That's going be critical right now. We've got to reset the rhetoric.

SIEGEL: Congressman Steve Israel, a Democrat of New York, thanks for talking with us today.

ISRAEL: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.