Rep. Mark DeSaulnier’s constituents had a message for him.
Sitting on desks and leaning against the walls at a middle school here in this East Bay district, they spoke one by one about an agreement under review that is designed to curb Iran’s nuclear program.
“Will you help stop a war with Iran?” a man in support of the deal asked, flanked by people holding signs reading “Defend diplomacy” and “60 days to stop a war.”
“Do you believe that the only alternative is war?” a woman asked, to a roar of applause from people opposed to the accord. “We had the Iranians begging us to meet because of the sanctions. We give those up, we have nothing.”
With the largest delegation and with DeSaulnier among nearly two dozen Golden State Democrats who have yet to publicly commit on the deal, California has become crucial turf this summer as lawmakers home for a six-week recess ask their constituents how they feel about the diplomatic effort.
Rep. Ami Bera’s website has a Google Forms pop-up survey asking voters their views.
“As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I take this issue very seriously and want to know your thoughts,” the query reads.
His office would not give a vote tally but said Bera is “continuing to take time to talk with stakeholders so he can thoroughly review the deal.”
Rep. Jim Costa’s office said calls and emails to the lawmaker reflect a mix of support and opposition to the plan, and that he is undecided.
Rep. Xavier Becerra, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and one of the biggest question marks concerning the proposed agreement, has remained mum, with his office saying only that he is reviewing the deal.
Linda Sanchez, chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, is also yet to pick a side.
Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer back the deal.
An informal Los Angeles Times survey of the House’s California Democrats found 15 in support, two in opposition and 22 either on the fence, undecided or not outlining a position ahead of the scheduled September vote.
With scrutiny from the president’s own party, staunch Republican opposition -- a GOP source said the party does not expect any of its House members to back the deal -- and little margin for error, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is helping President Obama collect Democratic votes while he mounts his own lobbying effort, even on the golf course while vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.
Pelosi’s office has issued news releases trumpeting each lawmaker as they have come out in support of the deal, even as well-known Senate Democrats including Charles Schumer of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey give it a thumbs down.
DeSaulnier said he spoke with Pelosi before the summer recess and told her he was leaning toward supporting the agreement. The Democrat was among a group of freshmen who met with Obama to discuss the Iran framework.
At the town hall this week, DeSaulnier stood at the front of the room and flipped on a PowerPoint presentation, explaining to the crowd of 150 why he is leaning yes.
“I’m inclined to vote for it, but I want to hear from both sides,” the newly elected congressman said in an interview before his community discussion in Pleasant Hill. “This is my first big foreign policy vote.”
A short time later, the room was packed with people of all ages dressed in suits, jeans and T-shirts ready to voice their concerns. After filling out yellow comment cards, they spoke into a small microphone. Others had a DeSaulnier staffer read their questions aloud.
The congressman asked for a tally of supporters in the room, and most in the crowd raised their hands.
A vocal minority signaled they want DeSaulnier to oppose the deal. Many said they worried that the agreement would allow Iran to use funds unfrozen by the lifting of international sanctions to support terrorism and further destabilize the region.
Under the terms of the deal, Tehran would regain access to about $56 billion now frozen in overseas accounts. Also, the Iranian economy will probably rebound as it resumes trade with the outside world.
DeSaulnier said he understood the concerns and admitted that Iran is a danger factor in the Mideast, but added that “that can’t preclude us from discussions.”
“For me, at some point it’s a leap of faith,” he said. “We don’t know if the Iranians will cheat. We hope they won’t.”
After the event, DeSaulnier said he plans to make up his mind on the matter by Labor Day. Lawmakers are set to return to Washington on Sept. 8.
Here’s a survey of how the House Democrats in the California delegation break down on the issue:
Rep. Pete Aguilar
Rep. Xavier Becerra
Rep. Ami Bera
Rep. Julia Brownley
Rep. Tony Cardenas
Rep. Jim Costa
Rep. Susan Davis
Rep. Janice Hahn
Rep. Jared Huffman
Rep. Ted Lieu
Rep. Zoe Lofgren
Rep. Grace Napolitano
Rep. Scott Peters
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard
Rep. Raul Ruiz
Rep. Lois Capps
Rep. Anna Eshoo
Rep. Sam Farr
Rep. John Garamendi
Rep. Mike Honda
Rep. Barbara Lee
Rep. Doris Matsui
Rep. Jerry McNerney
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi
Rep. Adam Schiff
Rep. Jackie Speier
Rep. Eric Swalwell
Rep. Mark Takano
Rep. Mike Thompson
Rep. Maxine Waters
Rep. Brad Sherman
Rep. Juan Vargas
Rep. Karen Bass
Rep. Alan Lowenthal
Rep. Mark DeSaulnier
Rep. Loretta Sanchez
DID NOT RESPOND TO INQUIRIES AND HAVE NOT ISSUED A POSITION:
Rep. Judy Chu
Rep. Linda Sanchez
Rep. Norma Torres