US politicians who signed Iran letter may pay with votes
The decision of nearly 50 Republican senators to become directly involved in ongoing nuclear negotiations have irked officials and — most importantly — voters. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)
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The decision of nearly 50 Republican senators to become directly involved in ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran first irked some government officials, then the White House -- and now it may begin to rankle those whose opinions they value most: the voters.
On Monday, the group of 47 Republican senators released an open letter they had written to the Iranian government -- which effectively amounted to a warning that the president of the United States has limited power to make a deal without Congress.
The United States, along with five other nations, is attempting to negotiate a deal that would dial down Tehran's nuclear capability in exchange for the lifting of certain sanctions against Iran's government.
"It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system," the letter said. "Thus, we are writing to bring to your attention two features of our Constitution -- the power to make binding international agreements and the different character of federal offices -- which you should seriously consider as negotiations progress."
On Tuesday night, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., announced that Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has also added his name to the letter. Jindal was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives between 2005 and 2008.
Democrats and the Obama administration have blasted the letter's authors, arguing that they're doing nothing short of taking sides with Tehran on a very important matter of national security.
Vice President Joe Biden, in particular, voiced absolute shock and said he was "offended" by what he called an attempt to circumvent the U.S. constitutional system.
"In 36 years in the United States Senate, I cannot recall another instance in which senators wrote directly to advise another country—much less a longtime foreign adversary," Biden said in a news release by the White House Press Office.
But while the ire of the White House or even fellow lawmakers may not concern the signers of the letter too much, those 47 senators -- 22 in particular -- could pay a heavy price for their intervening action the next time they ask for their constituents' votes. For nearly two dozen of those listed on the letter, that's just 20 months away.
"If a deal is not reached, based on past behavior, we can assume that Iran will begin to increase its nuclear capabilities, thereby provoking the U.S. onto a possible war footing," Southern California resident Ina Mozer wrote in a letter to the editor of the Los Angeles Times. "I suggest that the Republican senators who signed this letter also start thinking about signing up for military service, since they feel so strongly about destroying this opportunity for a peaceful solution to a very complex issue."
In the letter, drafted by Cotton, the lawmakers caution Tehran that any deal they agree to without congressional approval could be scrapped altogether when the next president takes office in 2017.
The senators' involvement in an executive foreign policy matter is virtually unprecedented in American history. And while there are many U.S. citizens who applaud the senators' letter, their voices of support are being drowned out by the voices of those outraged -- for the moment, at least.
"How embarrassing for our nation to have these 47 spiteful senators publicly attempt to delegitimize our president, sabotage peaceful negotiations and drag us into another unnecessary war," Corona, Calif., resident Lisa LaFlame noted in another letter to the Times.
The 37-year-old Cotton, the youngest member of the Senate who started his first term just two months ago, said he drafted the open letter because he wasn't sure Iran understood how the U.S. government operates. Cotton also said he was unable to get any Senate Democrat to sign the letter.
"That the Republicans would display their ignorance for all the world to see is horrifying," wrote Fullerton, Calif., resident Sherri Lipman.
The Iran letter was signed by all but seven members of the Republican Senate majority and, Cotton said, at least four Republicans considering a run for president next year. Several high-profile members of the Senate signed the letter, including John McCain, Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, Orrin Hatch and even Marco Rubio -- the lawmaker recently identified as the Senate's biggest no-show.
"The Constitution has been construed by the Supreme Court as allowing the president to enter into such binding agreements as part of his executive powers," New Hampshire resident Andrew Vorkink wrote in a letter to the editor of The New York Times. "Senators, who are sworn to uphold the Constitution, should be more careful in making irresponsible statements about the United States' international obligations."
The White House said it was intrigued by what it called the senators' "ironic" and "unusual" decision to align themselves with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
"They have shown their childish, mean-spirited disregard for the safety of all of us," Maryland resident Patricia Weller wrote to The New York Times. "They should be ashamed, but of course they will not be, because their dislike of President Obama apparently trumps everything."
Proponents of a deal argue that it would keep Tehran off a nuclear weapons track for at least a decade, as it would provide independent regulation of the program and limit resources available to it. Opponents of an agreement argue that a deal could actually keep alive the prospect of Iran producing nuclear weapons -- as it allows them to keep their nuclear infrastructure running.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced Tuesday that he will return to Switzerland this weekend with hopes of completing an agreement.
"The Republicans have obfuscated the clarity and legitimacy of the country's conduct of foreign policy," wrote Robert Thrun, a resident of Covington, Ky., to the Times. "In doing so, they have stifled the credibility not only of the present administration, but also of those to follow."
In all, 22 of the 47 Republicans who signed the letter are up for re-election next year.
By Doug G. Ware
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