Last week a political bloodbath unfolded on Capitol Hill.
Forty-seven U.S. senators, all Republicans and including four potential presidential candidates, sent an “open letter” to Iran explaining that a nuclear deal between the U.S. and Iran (with five other signatories) would not be binding if Congress did not approve it.
The political reaction was fierce. The twitter hashtag #47traitors was trending nationwide. The letter’s author, freshman U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), an Iraq war combat veteran, was viciously attacked.
Vice President Joe Biden said the letter dishonored the U.S. Senate. Secretary of State John Kerry said he was in “utter disbelief” about the letter. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called it a “hard slap in the face of the U.S.”
There are two problems with this righteous indignation.
First, members of Congress regularly go on “codels” (congressional delegations) to meet with foreign leaders. There is zero functional difference between a codel meeting with foreign leaders and the letter that was sent by 47 senators. Senators take the same oath that the president does.
Second, the notion that “politics stops at the water’s edge” and this letter is unprecedented is completely laid bare by history. Two examples: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) met one-on-one with Syrian President Bashar Assad in 2007, against the expressed wishes of the Bush administration. In 1983 U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) directly negotiated with the Soviets in an effort to thwart the Reagan administration.
So excuse me if I don’t take much of the outrage seriously.
If the Democratic Party and Iran are on one side, and the U.S. and Israel are on the other, doesn’t that tell us something important?
Republican U.S. senators are rightly frustrated. And some Democrats have joined them, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and former DNC chairman Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who have signed on to a bipartisan bill that imposes economic sanctions on Iran if a nuclear deal isn’t reached by June 30 and imposes a Congressional review period of 30 days once a deal is reached.
The cause of the bipartisan frustration is that the Obama White House refuses to allow Congress to approve the Iran nuclear deal.
Last Wednesday, Kerry again testified that the administration would not be submitting the deal before Congress - because they know it would not pass.
It is true that “treaties” are ratified by the president, but the Constitution gives the U.S. Senate the right to “advise and consent” on treaties.
But the administration argues that this isn’t a treaty; instead it’s an “executive agreement.”
Kerry testified to a Senate committee last week that “we are not negotiating a legally binding plan.”
What an utter waste of time.
With about 20 months left as president, it is now time to urgently create a legacy. The Iran deal is all about President Barack Obama’s legacy - a vain attempt to negotiate something Congress would never approve, that a majority of Americans oppose and that isn’t “legally binding.”
The spectacle on Capitol Hill on March 3 as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a stirring speech to a joint meeting of Congress, his third, was unusual.
In an ideal world, the speaker of the House would not invite a foreign leader to speak to Congress without the President’s approval. But the U.S. is not sharing many details about the Iran deal with Israel, and Congress has almost no role.
Netanyahu wanted to articulate his concerns about a “bad deal,” urging the U.S. and the Congress to push for a better one. He was essentially telling Congress to demand that they have an up or down vote.
This is exactly what the letter did.
The next president can void this “executive agreement,” and a Republican likely would do so.
Netanyahu rightly called attention to major problems with the deal: Iran’s nuclear infrastructure would remain in place, the breakout time to a bomb could be shorter than Iran claims, the sanctions (which have been working) would be lifted, inspectors would be verifying Iran’s participation (but only if Iran lets them), and the deal would sunset in ten years.
These are very real concerns from the leader of one of our strongest allies who rightly perceives Iran (the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism) as an existential threat to his people.
Obama’s legacy is not more important than preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb.
Any Iran deal that cannot pass Congress isn’t a good deal - for America or the world.
Matt Mackowiak is syndicated columnist, an Austin-based Republican consultant, and former Capitol Hill and Bush administration aide