MADISON, Wis. — Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold spent part of his first interview of the election year defending President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran — a deal most Americans are leery about, to say the least.
The Democrat, who is running against U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson to reclaim the seat he lost in the 2010 Republican revolution, said it’s only right to talk about the “great things the president has done.”
“He has accomplished some foreign policy goals we have had for a very long time,” Feingold told Sherwin Hughes, host of “The Forum,” Friday on Milwaukee’s 860 AM, WNOV.
Chief among those accomplishments, Feingold asserts, is what he believes to be Obama administration-led détente between the United States and its long-time enemy Iran.
“He’s helped us avoid a war with Iran by having this nuclear deal that hopefully will work and prevent us from having a situation with a country where we have had a very bad situation for, like, 40 or 50 years,” the Democrat said.
The nuclear agreement, opposed by Republicans and some Democrats, lifts economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for Iran agreeing to give up its nuclear weapons program. There are no guarantees, however, that a nation that has declared “death to America” will abide by the terms of the agreement, despite more oversight granted to international inspectors.
Obama administration officials argue the deal already is paying peace dividends, and that the amelioration of tensions between the two nations was on display following last week’s release of 10 U.S. Navy sailors captured and held briefly by Iran.
But footage of the sailors being captured, on their knees with their hands behind their heads, doesn’t sit well with many Americans and their lawmakers. CNN reported Friday that, according to a well-connected U.S. defense official, the sailors were told by their captors to “act happy” while they were being videotaped during their detention.
The sailors were held at gunpoint, according to new information released Monday by the U.S. military.
“The administration is pretending as if nothing out of the ordinary has occurred,” he said in a statement. It “places our Navy and Coast Guard vessels and the men and women who sail them at increased risk in the future.”
Over the weekend, Obama declared diplomatic victory following a prisoner swap and a lifting of crippling economic sanctions on Tehran, thanks to the nuclear deal.
“Now our governments are talking to each other,” the president said following Iran’s release of five U.S. hostages “unjustly detained,” U.S. officials told multiple news agencies. In exchange, the Obama administration agreed to release seven Iran nationals either convicted and serving sentences in the U.S. or facing charges, according to the Wall Street Journal. Most of those cases involved “violations of U.S. export laws and the sales of dual-use equipment that could be used in Iran’s military or nuclear programs,” American officials told the publication.
The Obama administration says Iran has fulfilled its obligations under last summer’s nuclear deal. For Tehran, that’s the big deal, opening up $100 billion in long-frozen assets.
“Under the nuclear deal, … Iran will not get its hands on a nuclear bomb,” Obama said. “The region, the United States and the world will be more secure.”
Yet, the danger remains. Obama failed to mention the imposition of new sanctions against several individuals and entities related to Iran’s illegal ballistic missile program. Tehran fired a medium-range ballistic missile in October, in defiance of the agreement.
Most Americans have opposed the nuclear agreement with the United States’ longtime enemy from the start. Just before the deal survived Congress, just 21 percent of respondents in a Pew Polls survey said they approved.
In December, a Pew Research Center poll found 62 percent of Americans (79 percent of Republicans, 60 percent of independents and 52 percent of Democrats) believe Iran’s nuclear program is a major threat to the United States, up from 59 percent in a similar poll from August 2014 — more than a year before the Obama-led nuclear deal was saved by congressional Democrats.
Feingold, based on his comments to the Milwaukee radio show, is all-in on the Obama deal.
The godfather of campaign finance reform has been less-than-Russ-Feingold in his latest campaign, breaking with his past pledges to avoid special interest donations, out-of-state cash and big bundlers.
Feingold has the big-money backing of J Street PAC. The liberal Jewish Middle East policy group that ardently supports Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran has announced it will target Johnson and other Republicans opposed to the agreement.
As the Washington Free Beacon has reported, J Street has bundled hundreds of thousands of dollars in lobbyist contributions for Feingold since 2010. The former senator was one of the three 2016 candidates first endorsed by the PAC last year.
Johnson campaign spokesman Brian Reisinger said Feingold is so liberal his foreign policy is “downright dangerous.”
“His support for President Obama’s reckless Iran deal is another example of how Senator Feingold’s far-out ideology would put our nation at risk,” Reisinger said. “Senator Feingold’s decision to take gobs of money from a special interest group that lobbied for the Iran deal like J-Street proves he’s even traded in his principles on campaign finance too.”
Feingold’s campaign has not returned several requests for comment.