By Emma Buchman
On March 9, 47 Republican senators sent an open letter to the leaders of Iran essentially stating that any discussion on Iran’s nuclear program with President Barack Obama is pointless because he will be out of office in two years and any deals struck with him must be met with Congressional approval. I guess that these senators believe that since Republicans control the Senate they will have no problem vetoing whatever agreement is reached between Washington and Tehran, but I think that these senators have bigger problems to worry about right now.
The letter was the brainchild of freshman Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and was signed by 46 other Republican senators, including Kelly Ayotte, John McCain, Mitch McConnell, and John Thune. Not only did the letter explain that Iranian leaders were going about nuclear discussions in the wrong way, they also said that they needed a history lesson about our Constitution. In the letter Cotton said, “It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system… Under our Constitution, while the president negotiates international agreements, Congress plays the significant role of ratifying them. Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement.”
Obviously, Cotton was correct in this regard. Anything that the president discusses still needs to be ratified by Congress (much to chagrin of many presidents, sorry, Woodrow Wilson). However, it is one of the responsibilities of the president to act as an intermediary between foreign governments and the American people. In bypassing the White House and sending this letter these senators have completely disregarded the integrity of our political system.
Part of working in Congress is dealing with a tense political atmosphere. This is bound to come up when the president and the majority in Congress come from opposing parties. If these 47 senators can’t deal with a little heat then why are they staying in the kitchen? This letter was not intended to help anyone besides themselves, and in a blatant attempt to jeopardize Obama’s position, they have only jeopardized these important talks.
This action has obviously been met with disapproval from, well, everybody. Democratic senators, the White House, even foreign officials were shocked by these actions. Diane Feinstein, one of California’s senators, said, “I think there are people in the Republican Party who will do anything they can to bring this president down.” Vice President Joe Biden, also the speaker of the Senate, said that this letter was, “…expressly designed to undercut a sitting President in the midst of sensitive international negotiations.” Foreign leaders from the UK and Germany have said that this letter was completely unprofessional. Also, before you ask, yes, even Iran had something to say about this letter, and it was not a statement of approval.
What I don’t understand is how so many experienced and tenured senators like McCain and McConnell would take the side of a freshman senator? Don’t they have enough experience to know the repercussions of an action like this? Do they care so much about undermining Obama’s authority as president that they would forsake the foundation of a government that they claim to hold so dear?
In an article for The Huffington Post, political science Professor John A. Tures captured the best interpretation of what Republicans should do to help bear fruit in the talks with Iran and the reality of the danger that they have put us in. He said, “Tennessee GOP Senator Bob Corker didn’t sign [the letter]. While some Republican politicians were trying to play to their ‘base’ or a bad caricature of it, he was doing the job his colleagues should have been doing: lining up bipartisan support in the Senate. He had just about secured a veto-proof majority for his position on Iran. Now…well, after that letter, who knows?”
To those 47 senators, I will say this: Iran doesn’t need a history lesson, and Obama does not need any of your help. As an article in “Newsweek” pointed out, this letter is neither illegal nor treasonous. Things like this have happened before and members of Congress have bypassed the president in foreign affairs before. Perhaps it isn’t as abominable as Biden claims that it is. However, that doesn’t make the actions of these senators any less pointless, any less insulting, or any less idiotic.