It’s usually a love-fest when Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, holds a meeting with constituents in his heavily Democratic Palm Beach-Broward congressional district.
But Deutch’s opposition to President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran drew a mixture of applause and boos and some heated questions Wednesday during a packed town hall meeting west of Delray Beach.
Deutch this month became one of the first congressional Democrats to come out against the deal, saying it allows Iran to become a “threshold nuclear state.” He defended his position in a spirited discussion with more than 200 constituents at the Shirley & Barton Weisman Delray Community Center.
Deutch said removing economic sanctions against Iran means “billions of dollars will wind up in the hands of terrorists, and those terrorists who are responsible not just for deaths in the region but deaths of American soldiers.”
He also voiced concern about lifting the arms embargo against Iran after five years and said the deal, after 15 years, will allow Iran to have unlimited centrifuges and ballistic missile research.
“There’s no reason to have intercontinental ballistic missiles, which can have a nuclear payload, for a peaceful nuclear program,” Deutch said.
Audience members brought up prominent supporters of the deal, including former Democratic Rep. Robert Wexler, who represented the district before Deutch and remains popular there.
“There are plenty of people on both sides who feel very strongly that this either is or is not a good deal…I didn’t reach the decision I reached because of some decision someone else reached. I made the decision because I studied the deal and came to my own conclusion,” Deutch said.
Deutch said he spent hundreds of hours in hearings and meetings, reading classified materials, talking with experts and meeting face to face with Secretary of State John Kerry, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and the president himself.
“I understand there’s some disagreement here, but I absolutely believe that what you want out of your member of Congress is someone who is committed to reading every word, taking advantage of every opportunity and reaching the best decision,” Deutch said.
One woman accused Deutch, a strong supporter of Israel, of backing “Israel right or wrong,” but Deutch said he made his decision based on U.S. national security interests.
Several audience members asked if rejecting the deal would hasten Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon and reduce U.S. leverage against it.
“The reason Iran came to the table was because of sanctions that Congress passed and the threat of military force,” Deutch said. “Neither one of those goes away if Congress rejects this deal.”