Where the 2016 Candidates Stand on the Iran Deal

GOP candidates take the stage for the first Republican presidential debate at the Quicken Loans Arena Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, in Cleveland.

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GOP candidates take the stage for the first Republican presidential debate at the Quicken Loans Arena Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, in Cleveland.

Eighteen candidates opposed, four in favor.

There’s less than one month to go in Congress’s review of the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran. And as Hill watchers tally votes, they’d also do well to check out what the 2016 field has to say about the deal—after all, they do include five sitting senators.

Some top lines of the Iran deal are as follows: It reduces the country’s cache of enriched uranium and the number of centrifuges Tehran can use for enrichment, it starts lifting sanctions once Iran has met certain conditions, and it mandates that the International Atomic Energy Agency keep tabs on Iran’s nuclear facilities for the next two decades or so. But it’s worth noting that some of the presidential contenders dispute almost entirely the veracity of what the Obama administration has said about the deal, which was announced July 14.

National Journal picked through public statements the contenders have made on the agreement and asked each campaign exactly what their candidate thinks. By now, all of them have publicly weighed in—18 are opposed, four in favor—and their attitudes range from hopeful to enraged.


Rand Paul

Do you support the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran? No.

The Kentucky senator said in mid-spring that he would “keep an open mind” about the agreement. But after seeing the final product in July, Paul, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said publicly that he’ll vote against the deal. On social media, Paul outlined what he views as its faults: Iran doesn’t have to show it’s complying with the deal before sanctions begin to lift, a ban on selling advanced military weapons to Iran will be lifted (not right away, but after a period of five to eight years), and “Iran is left with significant nuclear capacity.”

War-shy Paul has maintained his support for diplomatic negotiations—”but not to the detriment of a strong deal,” he said in a statement to National Journal.

If you do not, what do you believe should be done to curb Iran’s behavior?

In his statement to National Journal, Paul said, “While I continue to believe that negotiations are preferable to war, I would prefer to keep the interim agreement in place instead of accepting a bad deal.” Unlike some of his fellow presidential candidates, he’d previously suggested he wouldn’t immediately throw out the agreement if elected president. In an early-August interview with The Washington Post, Paul said he would instead “look to see if people are complying with it.” The Post characterized his position as providing Iran with “a chance to prove itself.”

I think President Obama gave up too much too early.” Aug. 6, GOP Debate.


Lindsey Graham

Do you support the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran? No.

The historically hawkish South Carolina senator has been one of the more vocal anti-deal candidates in the 2016 Republican field, calling the agreement “lousy” and similar to throwing ”a can of gasoline … on a fire.” He believes the agreement will result in a Mideast nuclear-arms race, and has recently threatened to withhold funding from the International Atomic Energy Agency—he’s the chair of a Senate Appropriations subcommittee that allocates money to the agency—if he and his fellow lawmakers aren’t shown “side agreements” between the IAEA and Iran on the country’s nuclear program.

If you do not, what do you believe should be done to curb Iran’s behavior?

In an interview in mid-July with CNN, Graham said, if he were president, he would allow Iran to have a nuclear program “for peaceful purposes.” But he said he’d tell the Ayatollah that “you’re not gonna get a dime until you change your behavior; you’re not gonna get more weapons until you stop destabilizing the Mideast; and if you want a war, you’re gonna lose it.” In a July Senate press release, Graham notes that he’d only recommence talks with Iran if the country is willing to end “its nuclear weapons ambitions and its support for terrorism.”

If I’m president of the United States, we’re going to reimpose sanctions until they change their behavior. And I’ll tell every French and German company if you do business with Iran, you’re going to lose the ability to do business in America. I would stop this deal.” July 15, Interview with NPR.


Donald Trump

Do you support the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran? No.

Iran gets everything and loses nothing,” the mogul said in a statement after the deal was announced, predicting that inspections won’t be implemented and offering a “guarantee” that Iran is closer to a nuclear weapon now than when negotiations began. In a nod to his business empire, he lamented that the United States has “incompetent leaders and even more incompetent negotiators.”

If you do not, what do you believe should be done to curb Iran’s behavior?

In a recent interview with Meet the Press, Trump suggested that getting rid of the nuclear deal isn’t necessarily feasible for the next president. If he had to enforce the deal, “I would police that contract so tough that they don’t have a chance,” Trump said. “As bad as the contract is, I will be so tough on that contract.”

It’s one of the great dumb deals of our time.” August 19, New Hampshire Town Hall.


Mike Huckabee

Do you support the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran? No.

The former Arkansas governor called the agreement a “humiliating handout” in a statement to National Journal. The deal “rewards the world’s biggest sponsor of terrorism with money, power, global recognition, and a path to a nuclear bomb”; it will “empower” Iranian-supported terror groups worldwide; and it directly threatens Israel. Huckabee has received criticism for the way he has characterized the deal as it relates to Israel. Late last month, he said that by trusting the Iranians, the president will “take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.”

If you do not, what do you believe should be done to curb Iran’s behavior?

In his statement, Huckabee said the United States must “preserve and extend” military and economic sanctions—and “eventually” try to bring about a regime change. He called for the United States to back “Iranian liberation movements” and “prosecute” Iranian leaders for crimes against humanity and genocide.

Iran has the blood of American soldiers and civilians on [its] hands. They have murdered innocent Jews, Christians, and Muslims across the entire globe and they must be held accountable.” August, Statement to National Journal.


Lincoln Chafee

Do you support the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran? Yes.

The former Rhode Island governor was supportive of U.S. negotiations with Iran, and he thinks the agreement is “a good one,” spokeswoman Debbie Rich told National Journal. “He supports President Obama and Secretary Kerry’s diplomacy as the way to secure peace in the Middle East,” she said. In an interview this month with USA Today, Chafee said fellow ex-Senator Hillary Clinton can make up for her 2002 Iraq War vote by fully supporting the Iran deal.

Sickening to see Iraq War supporters fighting so hard to stop Iran Peace Deal. @POTUS trying to fix their mess.” August 8, Twitter.


Carly Fiorina

Do you support the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran? No.

The former HP CEO thinks the Iranians have been acting in bad faith when it comes to nuclear negotiations: already trying to cheat on the deal and giving money to “proxies” who want to upend the Middle East. With sanctions lifted, those proxies will be given more funding, she said in a statement to National Journal.

If you do not, what do you believe should be done to curb Iran’s behavior?

In an April op-ed on Fox News, Fiorina asserted that “many other options” to deal with Iran, aside from the then-current negotiations, have been “unexplored or underutilized.” But she only specified one: “We should start by providing the support our Jordanian, Egyptian, Kurdish, Saudi, and Emirati allies have asked for.” At the first presidential debate four months later, Fiorina elaborated on what she’d do on the first day as president: tell Iran’s Supreme Leader that the United States will make it “as difficult as possible for you to move money around the global financial system” if Iran doesn’t implement anytime-anywhere inspections of nuclear and military facilities.

Saudi Arabia and Israel as we know don’t agree on very much, but they do agree that this is a bad deal.” July 14, interview with CBS This Morning. 


Bobby Jindal

Do you support the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran? No.

The Louisiana governor told conservative talk-radio host Hugh Hewitt in mid-July that the agreement validates “all of our worst fears” and will lead to, in essence, calamity. “I think we should all be telling the Iranian regime and our allies that we don’t consider this in our best interests,” Jindal said. “This will not be binding on the next commander-in-chief.”

If you do not, what do you believe should be done to curb Iran’s behavior?

In an interview with PBS Newshour‘s Gwen Ifill last month, the governor was vague on specifics, other than to say that in a Jindal White House, there’d be more stringent sanctions on Iran. “Every option needs to be on the table,” he said. “We need to negotiate from strength.”

Throughout this process, President Obama appeared more concerned with reaching a deal irrespective of the terms.” July 14, statement


Ted Cruz

Do you support the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran? No.

Cruz’s message to Democrats last month, after a closed-door briefing on the deal by Secretary of State John Kerry and others, sums up the Texas senator’s point of view: They’ll need to decide “whether to vote to protect the national security of this nation, to stand with our friend and ally the nation of Israel, and to protect the lives of millions of Americans, or in the alternative, whether to value partisan loyalty to the White House above the most solemn responsibility each and every one of us has.”

He has called the deal itself—not Iran, but the deal—”the single gravest national security threat facing America,” and said with the deal’s implementation, the Obama administration “will become the leading global financiers of radical Islamic terrorism in the world.”

If you do not, what do you believe should be done to curb Iran’s behavior?

A Cruz presidency would mean the end of the deal, Cruz has maintained. Earlier this month, he suggested that as part of a vaguely defined, let’s-do-everything-to-stop-Iran strategy, U.S. states should try to impose their own sanctions on the country. He hasn’t explicitly ruled out using military action to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

This deal today makes military conflict only more likely.” July 15, interview on Charlie Rose. 


Marco Rubio

Do you support the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran? No.

From his perch on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Rubio has been one of the deal’s most outspoken and high-profile opponents. “I would never have entered this negotiation unless we understood up front that Iran was going to stop enrichment activities, was going to stop their ballistic-missile capabilities, and was going to stop sponsoring terrorism,” the Florida senator told CNN’s Jake Tapper in a July 19 interview. “And none of these conditions have been met.”

If you do not, what do you believe should be done to curb Iran’s behavior?

Rubio has said he’d throw out the deal if elected president. He pledged to reinstate the economic sanctions lifted by the nuclear deal in a speech last week at the Foreign Policy Initiative, as well as beef up the U.S. military to “signal readiness.” Any talks between the United States and Iran during a Rubio presidency would require Tehran to lose its nuclear program entirely, and he’d “link” negotiations with Iran’s human rights and terrorism record.

Iran will be not just a nuclear weapon power but will have the capability to deliver that weapon to the continental United States in less than a decade.” August 2, speech to donors. 


Martin O’Malley

Do you support the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran? Yes.

The former Maryland governor has expressed hope that Congress gives the deal the go-ahead, telling the hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe earlier this month that the agreement is in the “best interest” of U.S. national security. “Now,” he said, “we have to make sure that it’s monitored, that it’s verifiable, and that we are constantly vigilant.”

I think this is how an effective foreign policy works, not merely using our military powers, but also our diplomatic. We have to also be about waging peace. And perhaps this deal is that path forward.” July 24, interview with Iowa Public Radio. 


Bernie Sanders

Do you support the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran? Yes.

The Democratic senator from Vermont framed his approval of the deal this way in early August: It’s not everything it could have been, but it’s surely better than war. In a statement following the announcement of the deal—before he declared his formal approval—Sanders characterized it as a “victory for diplomacy over saber-rattling.”

Do we really want another war, a war with Iran, an asymmetrical warfare that will take place all over this world, threatening American troops?” August 9, interview on Face the Nation. 


Hillary Clinton

Do you support the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran? Yes.

With vigorous enforcement, unyielding verification, and swift consequences for any violations, this agreement can make the United States, Israel, and our Arab partners safer,” Clinton said in a statement the day after the deal was announced. The former secretary of State was, notably, part of the “coalition that brought us to the point of this agreement,” as she put it in a press conference last month.

We have to pursue diplomacy if we expect to be able to solve difficult problems with the rest of the world supporting us.” August 10, New Hampshire campaign event


Jim Webb

Do you support the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran? No.

The former Virginia senator is the only Democratic presidential candidate who’s against the agreement, explicitly calling it a “bad deal.” In an interview in mid-July with NPR’s Diane Rehm, Webb said he understands what Iran gets out of the deal—”a lot,” including sanctions relief—but isn’t so clear about any advantage to the United States. He said he’s concerned about a shift in the Mideast balance of powers as a result of the deal, and that the agreement sends the signal that “we, the United States, are accepting the eventuality that they will acquire a nuclear weapon.”

If you do not, what do you believe should be done to curb Iran’s behavior?

Webb hasn’t been vocal about what he would do but has said he’s not against negotiating with Iran to improve relations.

We need to put country ahead of party.” August 9, interview on Fox News, addressing fellow Democrats who support the deal. 


Jeb Bush

Do you support the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran? No.

In the wake of the deal’s announcement, the former Florida governor told Yahoo Newsthe deal was a rush-job on the part of the Obama administration. “If they wanted to create a civilian nuclear program, fine,” he said. “If they want to build, if they want to become a nuclear threshold state, no. And now they are, and we’ve legitimized them.”

If you do not, what do you believe should be done to curb Iran’s behavior?

Bush hasn’t publicly gone into detail about his plan for Iran, but told The Weekly Standard in a statement that he’d “begin immediately to responsibly get us out of this deal.” Unlike many of his fellow candidates, Bush said he wouldn’t kill the deal on the first day of his presidency. “If you’re running for president, I think it’s important to be mature and thoughtful about this,” he said after a Nevada campaign event last month.

This isn’t diplomacy—it is appeasement.” July 14, statement


Scott Walker

Do you support the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran? No.

It’s a bad deal for us; it’s a bad deal for Israel; it’s a bad deal for the region,” Walker told CNN’s Dana Bash in July. “It’s not just the starting gun. It will accelerate the nuclear arms race, and it is empowering Iran to do what they’re going to do by lifting the sanctions, giving them credibility in the world.”

If you do not, what do you believe should be done to curb Iran’s behavior?

Walker has been saying since at least March that he would do away with the deal. In an April radio interview, he said he would do so even if trading partners of the United States don’t want to reinstate sanctions against Iran. In a statement the day of the agreement’s announcement, Walker said that “the next president must restore bipartisan and international opposition to Iran’s nuclear program” while backing U.S. allies to combat the country’s “destructive influence.”

You go to Congress and put in place even more crippling sanctions, and you convince our allies to do the same.” August 6, GOP debate. 


Rick Santorum

Do you support the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran? No.

The former Pennsylvania senator is “adamantly” against the deal, Matt Beynon, Santorum’s campaign spokesman, said in an email to National Journal. “It is a huge betrayal of the United States of America,” Santorum told a Philadelphia radio station on Wednesday. It will “empower Iran to be an even more virulent terrorist state” and ramp up their weapons development.

If you do not, what do you believe should be done to curb Iran’s behavior?

Santorum has said he’d drop the nuclear deal on the first day he’s president, and Beynon indicated that “all necessary steps” to prevent Iran’s nuclear weapons development are game. “For starters,” a President Santorum “would reimpose the sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy—many of those sanctions were actually codified by Senator Santorum’s 2006 legislation, the Iran Freedom and Support Act.” (FactCheck.org noted in May that his legislation codified sanctions that had already been imposed; Santorum himself did not write new ones into his bill.)

I have no doubt that Iran will use a nuclear weapon in any way possible to destroy the United States, to destroy Europe, to destroy Israel, or any other country that is in their way.” July interview with U.S. News & World Report. 


Ben Carson

Do you support the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran? No.

The retired surgeon told voters in Iowa that the deal puts “the whole country in jeopardy.” “During the coming weeks, the American people should continue to demand a better deal with Iran that will dismantle Tehran’s nuclear program and strengthen, rather than threaten, our nation’s long-term security,” Carson wrote in an op-ed in The Jerusalem Post earlier this month.

If you do not, what do you believe should be done to curb Iran’s behavior?

Carson’s statement on the deal doesn’t elaborate on what he would do as president, but it suggests how he would have crafted the agreement to ameliorate the threat Iran poses: “Without anywhere-anytime surprise inspections, a full accounting of Iran’s past secret nuclear arms pursuits, elimination of Iran’s uranium stockpiles, and the lifting of any sanctions only upon verification of Iranian compliance, this is not a good deal.”

Reagan: ‘Trust, but verify’. Re: #IranTalks, we need to verify @POTUS concessions! @BarackObama come clean, show all cards to #WeThePeople.” July 12, Twitter


Rick Perry

Do you support the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran? No.

For the first time in almost 50 years, the U.S. has changed its position on nonproliferation of nuclear weapons,” the former Texas governor told Fox Business last month. He has called on Congress to respond aggressively to the deal, saying in the August GOP debate that he hopes lawmakers’ reaction to the sanctions provisions will be “not only ‘no,’ but ‘hell no.’”

If you do not, what do you believe should be done to curb Iran’s behavior?

Since at least early spring, Perry has maintained that he would quickly scrub the deal as president, and he has said he’ll establish a regional coalition to stand together against Iran. “I will order a review of Iran’s compliance with the deal and an evaluation of Iran’s continued sponsorship of terror over the time frame of the agreement,” he wrote in a July statement. “I will move to ensure that the arms embargo—and, specifically, the ballistic-missile embargo—remain in place until Iran verifiably demonstrates that it desires to act as a stabilizing force in the region.”

The past is all but forgotten, if not forgiven.” March, RickPAC ad


John Kasich

Do you support the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran? No.

On his hopes for Congress, Kasich told Fox’s Bill O’Reilly: “I don’t want this deal to pass for two reasons: What’s gonna end up is, they’re gonna have a nuke and they’re gonna have a stronger economy.”

If you do not, what do you believe should be done to curb Iran’s behavior?

In an interview on Meet the Press late last month, Kasich implied that he wouldn’t automatically kill the deal as president; rather, he’d wait until Iran doesn’t live up to its obligations—as he expects will happen—before trying to “slap” sanctions back on. In recent interviews, Kasich has been an advocate for increased penalties for Iran: “Crushing Iran economically will lead them to a change in behavior,” he told Chuck Todd back in July.

If they violate this, or if the security interests of the U.S. or our friends—particularly Israel—is in jeopardy, then the accord would mean nothing to me.” August 17, National Security Forum


Chris Christie

Do you support the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran? No.

Much of Christie’s criticism of the deal has focused on President Obama personally: He asserted in an interview with Hugh Hewitt that the president “lied to the American people” about anytime-anywhere inspections. (Secretary of State Kerry has refuted this argument, saying that those types of inspections never were on the table.) “The president is playing a dangerous game with our national security, and the deal as structured will lead to a nuclear Iran and, then, a nuclearized Middle East,” the New Jersey governor said in a statement the day of the deal’s announcement.

If you do not, what do you believe should be done to curb Iran’s behavior?

In early July, Christie said as president he’d “look into” the deal before deciding on what actions to take, but he hasn’t gone into much further detail. “If I’m saddled with the deal as president, then on the first day I’ll be saying to my national security adviser, to my secretary of State, and to my head of national intelligence: Give me all the information I need to let me know all the options I have to try to put this genie back in the bottle,” he said in July. “And then we’ll make a decision.”

The way this negotiation was done, you wouldn’t let the president buy a car for you, let alone do this.” July 15, press conference


George Pataki

Do you support the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran? No.

The former Republican governor was particularly alliterative in his opposition to the deal, saying in a July statement that it’s a “colossal catastrophic capstone” to the Obama administration’s “failed” foreign policy. He’s dissatisfied with the inspections procedure and is concerned about the implications for terrorism.

If you do not, what do you believe should be done to curb Iran’s behavior?

Asked by Wolf Blitzer in July whether he’d support military action against Iran, Pataki wouldn’t describe exactly what he’d do as president, but he did suggest he supports keeping sanctions on Iran.

Congress must do its job and stand up for the American people, stand up for our safety, and say no to this Iranian deal.” July 22, Stop Iran rally in New York City. 


Jim Gilmore

Do you support the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran? No.

If I was president, I would not have entered into the agreement with Iran that lifts the sanctions, allows for new arms to flow to Iran, and does not stop Iranian support for terrorism across the Middle East and indeed the world,” the former Virginia governor said in a statement last month.

If you do not, what do you believe should be done to curb Iran’s behavior?

Gilmore said in his presidential announcement video in late July that he would reject the deal if he were to become president. He also proposed in his July statement establishing a new Mideast “military alliance” whose aims include limiting Iran’s power.

The deal should be rejected because it fails the key criteria to protect the American national interest and our allies.” August 19 interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch. 

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