When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared before a joint session of Congress last week where he registered his dissatisfaction with the proposed terms of a nuclear accord with Iran, President Barack Obama’s supporters engaged in a collectively overwrought reaction.
Perhaps the most overexcited voice in the antiphon of Obama supporters was, as is often the case, MSNBC host Chris Matthews who accused Republicans and the leader of the Israeli government of executing a coup. Matthews averred that the putsch had as its aim wresting control of American foreign policy out of the hands of the president.
Matthews might be surprised to learn that the Constitution gives the American Congress quite a bit of influence over foreign policy and the pursuit of American interests overseas. Congressional Republicans are apparently in no need of that civics lesson.
According to a report via Bloomberg’s Josh Rogin, the majority of the Republicans in the Senate wrote an open letter to the government of Iran in which they warned the Mullahs that any deal Obama’s signs that is not ratified by the U.S. Senate will be unlikely to outlast his presidency.
Organized by freshman Senator Tom Cotton and signed by the chamber’s entire party leadership as well as potential 2016 presidential contenders Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, the letter is meant not just to discourage the Iranian regime from signing a deal but also to pressure the White House into giving Congress some authority over the process.
“It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system … Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement,” the senators wrote. “The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”
Many inside the Republican caucus, however, hope that by pointing out the long-term fragility of a deal with no congressional approval — something Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has also noted — the Iranian regime might be convinced to think twice. “Iran’s ayatollahs need to know before agreeing to any nuclear deal that … any unilateral executive agreement is one they accept at their own peril,” Cotton told me.
Rogin noted that some of the advocates of a nuclear deal with Iran contend that this is merely bluster. Republicans can object to a nuclear arrangement all they want, but once it is in place and working reasonably well at preventing Iran from brazenly and publicly violating its terms, it will be harder for the GOP to support abandoning the accord.
It is possible that Republican legislators in the Senate are beginning to compensate for the damage done to the credibility of the Senate’s leading Democratic figure leery of a deal with Iran: Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ). His forthcoming indictment from the Department of Justice over corruption charges effectively neutralizes him as a high-profile Democratic critic of the administration.
Some have alleged that the timing of the DOJ’s indictment, coming just as the White House plans to reveal a likely agreement with the Islamic Republic, is too conspicuous to be coincidental.
“The skepticism results from the politicized nature of Eric Holder’s Justice Department as well as previous abuses in its Public Integrity Section,” The Wall Street Journal editorial board observed on Sunday. “Recall the indictment of the late Senator Ted Stevens in the middle of his re-election campaign in 2008. His conviction was set aside after a judge found the prosecution had withheld ‘significant’ exculpatory evidence.”
WSJ’s advice? Trust no one.
The timing of the Menendez charges is also politically suspicious. The Senate Democrat is a leading critic of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy on Russia, Cuba and Iran. Mr. Obama recently accused critics of his Iran diplomacy of bowing to their political donors—that is, to Jewish Americans. According to the New York Times, Mr. Menendez rose at a private meeting of Democratic Senators to tell the President he was personally offended by those remarks. The negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program are coming to a head this month, and it doesn’t hurt the President if a prominent critic is operating under an ethical cloud.
All of which is to say that it’s important to look closely at the evidence and charges in this case and test them before a jury. This Justice Department deserves to be treated with as much doubt as any New Jersey politician.
It’s clear that the GOP-led Senate wants to reaffirm its role as the only body with the constitutional authority to ratify international agreements, and is going about reasserting itself aggressively. Whether they will successfully thwart the implementation of a bad deal, should the administration submit those terms to Congress before the end of the month, remains to be seen. Considering the GOP majority’s record in thwarting this administration’s preferences, though, it’s perhaps wise to reserve judgment.