New executive overreach: Obama may relax U.S. sanctions on Iran — without action from Congress
posted at 4:01 pm on January 21, 2014 by Allahpundit
It used to be that O reserved his executive power grabs for matters on which Congress was deadlocked, or simply wasn’t moving fast enough for his liking. Not always, of course: Congress duly enacted the ObamaCare employer mandate that he suspended, but that likely would have produced deadlock if he had asked Congress to suspend it instead, which, I guess, in Obama’s mind is close enough. This time is different. If anything, there’s too much bipartisan support for Iran sanctions; the whole reason Harry Reid hasn’t let a vote come to the floor in the Senate is because he’s afraid pro-Israel Democrats will cross the aisle and join the GOP on a new slate of measures designed to turn the pressure up on Tehran. That could blow up O’s nuke negotiations with the mullahs. And even if new sanctions don’t pass, it may be impossible to get Congress to lift sanctions that are currently in effect as a reward for Iran if/when they meet some of the White House’s nuclear demands. That too is a function not of deadlock but of bipartisan agreement between Republicans and a slew of Democrats in Congress who are more hawkish towards Iran than Obama is.
Solution: More unilateral action, of course.
“The American people must get a say in any final nuclear agreement with Iran to ensure the mullahs never get the bomb,” [Sen. Mark] Kirk told the Washington Free Beacon. “The administration cannot just ignore U.S. law and lift sanctions unilaterally.”…
Top White House aides have been “talking about ways to do that [lift sanctions] without Congress and we have no idea yet what that means,” said one senior congressional aide who works on sanctions. “They’re looking for a way to lift them by fiat, overrule U.S. law, drive over the sanctions, and declare that they are lifted.”…
“It’s no secret that the president, with executive power, can determine sanctions implementation, particularly with waivers and the decision not to sanction certain entities,” said Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism finance analyst at the Treasury Department, which is responsible for enforcing sanctions…
“In the case of Iran, such an approach could allow Washington to reach a nuclear accord without Congress having to vote on rescinding, even temporarily or conditionally, certain sanctions,” Clawson wrote. “No matter how stiff and far-reaching sanctions may be as embodied in U.S. law, they would have less bite if the administration stopped enforcing them.”
It’s not that O’s going to somehow unilaterally repeal the sanctions in effect. A la the employer mandate, he’ll simply refuse to enforce existing law, using executive orders and waivers to make sure that funds that Congress wants choked off will somehow find their way to Iran if the mullahs play ball. The counterargument here, I guess, is that presidents always have some latitude in how they enforce sanctions. Right, but this isn’t a quibble about how best to carry out a mutually agree-upon policy; it’s a case of the executive and legislature being seemingly at loggerheads on the core question of whether U.S. policy should involve more pressure on an enemy or less — at a sensitive moment of international diplomacy to boot. Against that backdrop, systematically relaxing sanctions would amount to O substituting the policy he favors for the one favored by Congress. That’s actually bolder than his decision not to enforce the mandate, which Democrats were happy to see him do (even though they had passed the mandate in the first place) since it averted an extra ObamaCare-related political headache for them this year. By relaxing Iran sanctions, he’d potentially be defying his own party too.
Exit question: Pro-sanction Democrats in Congress will ultimately end up playing along with this, though, right? The bona fide Iran hawks will be angry, but the fencesitters who like to project hawkishness to show support for Israel without being heavily invested in the subject might find this a dandy solution to their dilemma. If the fate of sanctions is left to them, their choice is either to sabotage Obama’s deal with Iran by refusing to relax sanctions or to be accused of selling out Israel by agreeing to relax them. Better to let the lame duck in the White House take the heat by doing what he wants and then either taking vicarious credit if his policy works or beating him up if it doesn’t. No surprise, by that logic, that some pro-sanctions Dems have been spotted toning down the rhetoric lately. They’ll defer to O in the end. What do they have to lose?