Last week, Senator Tom Cotton and 46 other Republican Senators penned an open letter to Iranian leaders, reiterating Congress’s constitutionally-guaranteed roll in negotiations with foreign powers.
Democrats responded by mounting their high horses and leading the charge against the ‘47 Traitors.’
But that was last week.
A peek behind the curtain of political theatre reveals a different play altogether.
Yesterday, Burgess Everett of Politico reported that a dozen Senate Democrats are prepared to support legislation that could undermine the President’s Iran deal. Although, the Democrats responding to Politico wanted to make clear that THEY DO NOT SUPPORT THE GOP’s LETTER TO IRAN.
In a fabulous turn of events that could only transpire within the D.C. Beltway, that whole ’47 Traitor’ thing was revealed as nothing more than a political play; an opportunity for the administration to take bipartisan support for Congressional power and drive a wedge between Democrats and Republicans.
President Obama’s “don’t you know who I am?!” gig wasn’t a total loss though. Senate Republicans served up a chance for the President to spike the ball firmly within partisan territory. While the public relations front was a loss for Senate Republicans (just Google ‘senate’ and ‘Iran’ and enjoy the numerous headlines painting Senate Republicans as veritable Benedict Arnold doppelgangers), what comes next will likely be an even greater embarrassment for President Obama than any letter.
Obama’s Congressional sidestep is at risk of being shoved back in line by ‘traitors’ and a bevy of Democrats who agree with them. Political math indicates that 54 Republicans + 12 Democrats = veto proof majority the 60 day Congressional review mandate.
As we discussed last week, Congress has little say in the current Iran deal because the Obama administration has opted to negotiate a non-binding agreement. Non-binding agreements hold the same type of power as an executive order.
Where Corker’s bill becomes a problem for the President is that, “An executive agreement never overrides inconsistent legislation and is incapable of overriding any of the sanctions legislation,” says David Rivkin, a constitutional litigator with Baker Hostetler, LLP who served in the White House Counsel’s Office in the Reagan and George H. W. Bush Administrations. “A treaty that has been submitted for Senate’s advise and consent and if it’s self-executing could do that,” Armin Rosen of Yahoo News reported last week.
Timing is everything. The White House fears Corker’s bill will tank their deal with Iran, at least that’s what White House Chief of Staff McDonough is saying, CNN reports:
“The legislation you have introduced in the Senate goes well beyond ensuring that Congress has a role to play in any deal with Iran. Instead, the legislation would potentially prevent any deal from succeeding by suggesting that Congress must vote to ‘approve’ any deal and by removing existing sanctions waiver authorities that have already been granted to the President,” McDonough wrote.
The chief of staff said that only Congress can terminate the existing Iran sanctions that are included in laws, but the President can relax some sanctions put into place by executive order unilaterally.
One of the major issues between the U.S. and Iran is the timetable for lifting of the sanctions.
“If congressional action is perceived as preventing us from reaching a deal, it will create divisions within the international community, putting at risk the very international cooperation that has been essential to our ability to pressure Iran. Put simply, it would potentially make it impossible to secure international cooperation for additional sanctions, while putting at risk the existing multilateral sanctions” now in place, McDonough said in his letter.
For his part, Corker on Sunday released a statement: “On this issue where Congress has played such a vital role, I believe it is very important that Congress appropriately weigh in before any final agreement is implemented.”
Just to be on the safe side, there’s also a failsafe in the works.
Another bill, proposed by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), could also be an option if Congress begins to doubt Iran’s commitment to finalizing a deal or upholding one. Kirk’s bill would trigger sanctions if Iran walks away from talks or reneges on a deal. He said 68 senators have signaled support for it, a number he predicted would grow “once we actually vote.”
Meanwhile, back at the White House, President Obama is still refusing to come out and play.
The White House and Obama administration officials are shrugging off Congress’ still-strong bipartisan desire for weighing in on the delicate talks with Iran, and they declined to say whether the president will renew veto threats on either Iran bill after March 24. The view from Obama’s orbit: Firmly focus on making sure there’s a deal first, regardless of the speculation on Capitol Hill.
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