Outrage over GOP's letter to Iran

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A letter from Senate Republicans to Iran about the pending nuclear deal undermines President Obama's authority to conduct foreign policy, the White House charged Monday.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest was unusually blunt in ripping the Senate GOP, saying “it’s surprising to me there are some Republican senators who are seeking to establish a backchannel with hardliners in Iran to undermine an agreement with Iran and the international community.”

Earnest said Republicans have a “long and rather sordid history" of putting military options ahead of diplomatic ones, and called the letter, signed by 47 GOP lawmakers, “the continuation of a partisan strategy to undermine the president’s authority."

The GOP letter, spearheaded by Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonRussian spy poisoning brings world powers closer to day of reckoning GOP senators see Tillerson ouster as the new normal Cotton: Russia will 'lie and deny' about British spy poisoning MORE (R-Ark.), warns Iranian leaders that any agreement between Washington and Tehran could be voided by Congress and simply not upheld once Obama leaves the White House in 2017.

“Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement,” they 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."

The White House spokesman stressed that a final deal endorsed by President Obama would not be subject to congressional approval, and said any agreement would require commitment from Iran to an “intrusive” inspections program of nuclear facilities, manufacturing sites and uranium mines.

“All of this is much more likely to be successful and more enduring than the military option our Republican opponents seem to be advocating,” he said.

Congressional Democrats joined the White House in denouncing the letter, with Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinTrump vows tougher borders to fight opioid epidemic Clinton: 'I meant no disrespect' with Trump voter comments Lawmakers rally to defend Mueller after McCabe exit MORE (D-Ill.) calling it “a cynical effort by Republican Senators to undermine sensitive international negotiations — it weakens America’s hand and highlights our political divisions to the rest of the world.”

“Understand that if these negotiations fail, a military response to Iran developing their nuclear capability becomes more likely,” added Durbin, the second-ranking Senate Democrat.

Senate Republicans “should think twice about whether their political stunt is worth the threat of another war in the Middle East,” he added.

Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerThe ‘bang for the buck’ theory fueling Trump’s infrastructure plan Kamala Harris endorses Gavin Newsom for California governor Dems face hard choice for State of the Union response MORE (D-Calif.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, accused Republicans of trying to “sabotage” the nuclear talks.

"This bizarre, inappropriate letter is a desperate ploy to scuttle a comprehensive agreement and the chance for a peaceful resolution, which is in the best interests of the United States, Israel and the world,” Boxer said in a statement.

The White House and Democrats appeared to be coordinating their response, with Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidTrump presses GOP to change Senate rules Only thing Defense’s UFO probe proves is power of political favors Nevada Democrat accused of sexual harassment reconsiders retirement: report MORE (D-Nev.) assailing Republicans on the Senate floor as “undermining our commander in chief while empowering the ayatollahs."  

"Republicans need to find a way to get over their animosity of President Obama,” Reid said.

"It's unprecedented for one political party to directly intervene in an international negotiation with a sole goal of embarrassing the president of the United States."

The letter is just the latest instance of Republicans using control of Congress to challenge Obama on foreign policy, in part by going over his head.

House Republicans flexed their muscle earlier this year when they invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to deliver a speech to a joint session of Congress on the nuclear talks without first notifying the White House.

Netanyahu used the speech last week to assail the diplomatic talks, warning the deal that is in the works will inevitably lead to Tehran becoming a nuclear power.

Now Senate Republicans are making their voices heard by warning the Iranian regime that a nuclear deal could be rolled back if the GOP wins control of the White House in 2016.

Cotton said Republicans who are considering presidential bids should embrace the letter as part of their platform, noting that Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRubio: McCabe 'should've been allowed to finish through the weekend' For Tillerson, bucking Trump became a job-killer At least six dead after pedestrian bridge collapses on cars in Florida MORE (Fla.), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulTrump informally offered Cohn CIA job before changing his mind: report Congress moving to end US involvement in Yemen Congress races to finish .2 trillion funding bill MORE (Ky.), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Tech: Facebook faces crisis over Cambridge Analytica data | Lawmakers demand answers | What to watch for next | Day one of AT&T's merger trial | Self-driving Uber car kills pedestrian The case for a new branch of the military: United States Space Force The problem with hindsight MORE (Texas) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate GOP: Legislation to protect Mueller not needed Cornyn: Hearing on McCabe firing would be 'appropriate' McCain: Mueller must be allowed to finish investigation 'unimpeded' MORE (S.C.) have already signed it.

“I would encourage presidential candidates to join us. We already have four senators on the letter, who were thinking about running for president,” Cotton said Monday during an interview with Fox News’s “Fox and Friends.”

Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffTop Russia probe Republican: 'No intention' of calling Cambridge Analytica officials back Overnight Tech: Facebook faces crisis over Cambridge Analytica data | Lawmakers demand answers | What to watch for next | Day one of AT&T's merger trial | Self-driving Uber car kills pedestrian Overnight Cybersecurity: Trump-linked data firm Cambridge Analytica attracts scrutiny | House passes cyber response team bill | What to know about Russian cyberattacks on energy grid MORE (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said he was “appalled” by the GOP's actions.

“I think it's deeply irresponsible to have these GOP senators write to a foreign government in a way that's at odds with the president's policy ... it's beyond disturbing. We are so far beyond politics ending at the water’s edge,” he said Monday during an interview with MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports.”

Schiff said that based on the outcome of the negotiations lawmakers are “going to face some tough choices ahead."

“But I think all of us, Democrats and Republicans, House members and senators, ought to keep our powder dry until we see whether there's an agreement, and then there will be plenty of time for us to weigh in,” he said.

— Last updated at 1:57 p.m.