Maine Sen. Susan Collins is once again in the spotlight as the lone Republican senator who has yet to signal her position on the controversial Iran nuclear agreement negotiated by the U.S. and other nations.

With President Obama closing in on the 34 Senate Democrats needed to implement the agreement, Collins’ support may not be critical to the administration. Yet all of Collins’ Republican colleagues in the U.S. Senate have indicated they oppose the nuclear deal, meaning Maine’s senior senator is the Obama administration’s last hope to win bipartisan support for the pact in the chamber, according to reports. Several House Republicans are reportedly weighing support for the deal as well.

Collins, a moderate Republican often viewed as a swing vote on contentious issues, has expressed concerns about the agreement but has yet to say how she will vote when the Senate takes up a resolution disapproving of the agreement after Congress’ August recess. A spokeswoman for Collins said Wednesday that the senator will announce her decision after Labor Day.

“Senator Collins is taking this issue extremely seriously,” said spokeswoman Alleigh Marre. “She has been briefed extensively through her work on the Senate Intelligence Committee and has spent countless hours this August studying the agreement and meeting with proponents and opponents alike. She remains concerned about some key aspects of the agreement including the lack of a good inspection regime, which will make verification extremely difficult, and the lifting of the embargoes on conventional arms and Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Technology.”

Earlier Wednesday, several dozen activists held a brief rally in Portland’s Monument Square and then walked several blocks to Collins’ local office. The activists, some of them holding “Defend Diplomacy” and “No war with Iran” signs, then delivered 360 pages of petition signatures urging her to support the agreement. The rally was held as part of the No War With Iran National Day of Action by members of Greater Brunswick PeaceWorks, Peace Action Maine and Veterans for Peace.

“I, too, am weary of war and a country that seems to lead us toward more and more militarization and violence,” said Rosalie Paul with PeaceWorks. “And I think the people know, and are speaking up in increasing numbers, that it is time to learn to cooperate.”

Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, has announced his support for the agreement, as has U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-District 1. U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-District 2, has called the agreement “a bad deal” that could increase the likelihood of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.

The nuclear agreement would require Iran to decrease its current stockpile of uranium and limits its capacity to create enriched uranium needed to make nuclear weapons for 15 years. It also allows inspectors to visit sites of suspected nuclear activity, although critics contend the inspection language is too weak. In return, Iran could see debilitating economic sanctions on oil, banking and other business interests lifted later this year.

Critics, led by Republicans in Congress and Israel, argue that Iran has demonstrated that it cannot be trusted and that the agreement’s 15-year timeframe is too short.

The resolution opposing the Iran nuclear deal is expected to win majority support in the Republican-controlled House and Senate. Obama has pledged to veto the resolution and would need 34 of the 100 senators to side with him on a veto-override vote or 41 votes to block the bill’s consideration on the Senate floor. To date 29 Democrats have announced their support for the agreement and only two against it, with more than a dozen still unknown.

President Obama has taken to personally calling lawmakers to argue his administration’s case. Marre said Collins had not spoken directly with the president about the issue but has spoken with other senior administration officials.

Collins often waits to reveal her stances on contentious, closely watched issues until just prior to a vote, a tendency that can frustrate people with strong passions on the issue – including some of Wednesday’s peace activists – but that her supporters say is a sign that she seriously weighs arguments. It also means that Collins is often in the media spotlight.

On Wednesday, The Hill – a closely watched news organization on Capitol Hill – published an article calling Collins “Obama’s last hope for GOP support on Iran.”

“Sen. Collins is quite frequently concerned with good governance and good process,” said Blaise Misztal, director of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s national security program, told The Hill. “I could see her not wanting this deal to have to go to a presidential veto … Given that the way votes are breaking, it might even be difficult for opponents to get the 60 votes they need in the Senate to get past cloture. I don’t think (Collins is) going to feel that compunction to have to break with her party on the deal.”

 

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