President Obama speaks about historic nuclear agreement with Iran

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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is publicly defending Wednesday a deal that aims to rein in Iran’s nuclear program, telling reporters “this deal is our best means of ensuring Iran does not get a nuclear weapon.”

Obama is talking directly with the press, but his real audience will be skeptical Democrats on Capitol Hill, who could join with Republicans to scuttle the deal.

“My hope is that building on this deal, we could continue to have conversations with Iran that incentivize them to behave differently in the region,” Obama said Wednesday from a White House press conference.

White House officials have been trumpeting the measure for the limits placed on uranium enrichment and broad access for international inspectors.

But Republicans have panned the measure as caving to Iran. And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who holds bipartisan sway in Washington, has called it a “historic mistake.”

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, told CNN’ “New Day” Wednesday morning, that after reading through the deal, he had determined: “Unfortunately it’s not as bad as I feared, it’s actually much worse.”

Obama responded to critics from across the aisle Wednesday by saying at his press conference, “I am not betting on the Republican party rallying behind this agreement.”

Democratic frontrunner and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton plied legislative Democrats on Tuesday during private meetings on the Hill.

Obama warned Tuesday that he would veto any measure that throws the deal off-track — effectively pushing the bar for Republicans and Democratic opponents to the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.