Rep. Mike Quigley: Iran Deal Is the Best Possible Option

Rep. Mike Quigley speaking at an event in 2014.Rep. Mike Quigley speaking at an event in 2014. (Image: Argonne National Laboratory)

On Monday, August 31, I went to the City Club of Chicago to see a speech by Democrat Mike Quigley, who represents Illinois’ Fifth Congressional District in Congress. I went for three reasons: to support a vigil outside the talk by supporters of the Iran deal, urging Quigley to back it; to deliver petitions to Quigley signed by more than 2,000 of Quigley’s IL-5 constituents urging him to support the deal; and to hear what Quigley would say about how he planned to vote on the deal.

Quigley did not address the issue during his prepared remarks. But the first question after the talk was: “What is your position on the deal?” A moderator later said something like: there were 34 questions, and 30 of them were on the Iran deal. (This was like the National Press Club where you have to write your question on a card beforehand.) The fact that so many questions were on the Iran deal certainly reflects engagement and interest from the City Club of Chicago audience; it may also reflect the fact that people who came to the event were greeted by people with “No War With Iran” and “Defend Diplomacy” signs.

Quigley said the following. This is verbatim, I recorded it on my phone. Interested reporters can contact me for the video.

“I believe – and I believe our intelligence community, and internationally, overall, the intelligence community believes, that we will know more about what’s happening in Iran if we do the deal than if we don’t.”

Quigley is on the House Intelligence Committee, so presumably he is in at least as good a position as any other member of Congress, if not better, to judge what the intelligence community believes.

“Also, I will say this, and I know that this upsets people because they disagree, but I don’t believe a better deal could have been negotiated. Which is not to say that there is not something we would have preferred, right? Total elimination of any nuclear material in Iran. But given our dance partners – and I’m not just talking about the Iranians – I think that Secretary Kerry probably did the best job anyone could. And with all due respect, if we go back to the table, I don’t think they all come back to the table.”

I will leave it to The Hill to judge whether they should change their assessment of Quigley from “Unclear/Undecided” to “Leaning Yes” based on these remarks. To me, the logic is clear and strong: if you support diplomacy, and if you think this is the best deal possible, what else is there to say about whether you are likely to vote yes or no? We’re not voting on whether to fall in love with the deal and live happily ever after. We’re voting on whether this is the best possible course of action among the realistic alternatives.

Regardless of that, I think the following is beyond reasonable dispute: Quigley, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, just exploded two key claims of Republican opponents of the deal: the claim that Obama and Kerry could have gotten a better deal, and the related claim that if Congress were to blow up this deal, we could go back to the table and negotiate a different one. No, Quigley said. Kerry got the best deal possible, and if Congress were to blow up this deal, some negotiating countries would not come back to the table.

With Senator Casey and Senator Coons coming out for the deal, The Washington Post is all but calling game over on Republican efforts to block the deal in Congress. But that still leaves the question of how individual Democrats who have not declared yet will vote. If we want to turn a corner in US foreign policy, if we want to show the world and show ourselves that we think we learned something important from the Iraq fiasco, it would be a very good thing if we can tell the story that when the chips were down, Democrats in Congress overwhelmingly supported diplomacy and that Chuck Schumer and Robert Menendez were marginalized.

So it still makes a difference what Mike Quigley does. So far, not one Illinois Democrat in Congress has come out against the deal. Perhaps this shouldn’t surprise us much: from the point of view of many Illinois Democrats, who are overwhelmingly Chicago-area Democrats, Obama is our guy, our gift to the world. And Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, organizing Senate Democrats in support of the deal? That’s our other guy. And Jan Schakowsky, organizing House Democrats in support of the deal? Also one of ours. Saying the Iran deal is no good is saying that Obama is no good. Saying that Obama is no good is saying that Chicago is no good.

And when some people say that Chicago is no good – well, Chicago Democrats don’t like that.