GOP letter to Tehran backfires

645X363 - Defense Policy Player

A letter from Senate Republicans to Iran’s leadership has divided the GOP and forced it to play defense, endangering the party’s chances of passing a new round of sanctions that would kill President Obama’s nuclear talks with Tehran.

The talks have long divided Democrats, and just last month it appeared nearly certain that Republicans would have enough votes in the Senate to override a presidential veto of new sanctions.

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That has quickly changed, and the outrage over the letter from 47 Republicans to Tehran is threatening to scuttle Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGiuliani: White House wants briefing on classified meeting over Russia probe GOP senators introduce Trump's plan to claw back billion in spending The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Trump now says Korea summit could still happen June 12 MORE’s (R-Ky.) hopes of winning Senate approval of two bills that would hem in Obama’s talks with Iran.

The White House on Tuesday seized on the letter for a second day, lashing out at the Republicans who sent it and calling it a “reckless” and “misguided” stunt.

The New York Daily News used the headline “Traitors” with pictures of McConnell, possible GOP presidential candidates Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGOP senators introduce Trump's plan to claw back billion in spending Pro-Trump super PAC raises .5 million in 6 weeks Trump has exposed Democratic hypocrisy on prison reform MORE (Texas) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP senators introduce Trump's plan to claw back billion in spending Pro-Trump super PAC raises .5 million in 6 weeks Trump has exposed Democratic hypocrisy on prison reform MORE (Ky.), and freshman Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonSenate confirms Haspel to head CIA Democrats urge colleagues to oppose prison reform bill Trump-backed prison reforms face major obstacles in Senate MORE (R-Ark.), who spearheaded the letter.

The conservative Wall Street Journal’s editorial board also ripped the letter, calling it a “distraction” that let Obama change the subject.

GOP infighting over the letter — seven Republican senators did not sign it — burst into the open, with several Republicans criticizing their colleagues.

“It did not seem to me to be appropriate for us to be writing the ayatollah at this critical time during the negotiations, and frankly, I doubt very much that the ayatollah would be moved by an explanation of our constitutional system,” Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGOP senators introduce Trump's plan to claw back billion in spending Hillicon Valley: Sweeping new data rules take effect | Facebook, Google already hit with complaints | Schumer slams reported ZTE deal | Senators look to save cyber post | Dem wants answers about Trump's phone security Senators express concern over Trump's decision to scrap top cyber post MORE (R-Maine) told a group of reporters on Tuesday.

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeGOP senators introduce Trump's plan to claw back billion in spending Overnight Energy: Reporters barred from Day 2 of EPA summit | Dems blame Trump for gas price increases | Massachusetts to get new offshore wind farm Jeff Flake: Trump has 'debased' the presidency MORE (R-Ariz.) said the letter isn’t “helpful” or “productive.”

“These are tough enough negotiations as it stands,” he said. “And introducing this kind of letter, I didn’t think would be helpful.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerHillicon Valley: Experts worry North Korea will retaliate with hacks over summit | FBI works to disrupt Russian botnet | Trump officials look to quell anger over ZTE | Obama makes case for tighter regs on tech Senate GOP sounds alarm over Trump's floated auto tariffs Biden, Corker honored with Freedom House human rights awards MORE (R-Tenn.) said he did not think the letter “was something that would help get us to an outcome that we’re seeking.” He also said it would not have been constructive for him to sign it and expressed surprise that so many Republican senators did back it.  

“I just didn’t even realize until this weekend that it had the kind of momentum that it had,” he said.

Sens. Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsConservatives leery of FBI deal on informant GOP senator: Trump has no right to influence an investigation The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — How long can a Trump-DOJ accord survive? MORE (Ind.), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — Abortion rights group plans M campaign to flip the House Senate health committee to hold hearing on Trump drug pricing plan Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — VA reform bill heads to Trump's desk MORE (Tenn.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiGOP senators introduce Trump's plan to claw back billion in spending Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — VA reform bill heads to Trump's desk Senators introduce bill to measure progress in opioid fight MORE (Alaska) and Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranMississippi Democrat drops Senate bid Dems look to keep up momentum in upcoming special elections Chamber of Commerce makes play in Mississippi Senate race for Hyde-Smith MORE (Miss.) are the other four Republican senators who didn’t sign the letter.

Coats and Murkowski are up for reelection in 2016.

The Obama administration is seeking to reach a deal on a framework with Iran by the end of the month that would remove sanctions on that country in exchange for concessions meant to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon.

The U.S. is seeking commitments from Iran that would ensure vigorous inspections and limit the country’s ability to enrich uranium to the point where it would take one year for Iran to acquire enough nuclear fuel to develop a weapon if it broke an agreement.

Skeptics of Obama’s diplomacy with Iran exist in both parties, and a number of Democrats hailed a speech last week to Congress by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyah, who argued it would be impossible for Obama to negotiate a good deal with Iran that would keep Israel safe.

Netanyahu’s controversial address appeared to give Republicans some momentum, but Democrats in the Senate quickly balked at a plan by McConnell to hold a procedural vote this week on legislation sponsored by Corker and Sen. Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezThe Hill's Morning Report: Can Trump close the deal with North Korea? Senate must save itself by confirming Mike Pompeo Poll: Menendez has 17-point lead over GOP challenger MORE (D-N.J.) that would require Congress to review a proposed deal with Iran before it could be approved.

The Corker-Menendez bill itself is seen as a softer approach to a bill from Sen. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkThis week: Trump heads to Capitol Hill Trump attending Senate GOP lunch Tuesday High stakes as Trump heads to Hill MORE (R-Ill.) and Menendez that would restore and impose new sanctions if no deal is reached, or if Iran violates the deal. The sanctions bill appeared to have a veto-proof majority earlier this year.

Now, it’s not clear it would get 60 votes.

Democrats went to the Senate floor on Monday to denounce the Cotton letter, which suggested that any deal with Iran could be undone after Obama leaves the White House in 2017.

Vice President Biden, a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations panel, said the letter “threatens to undermine” the president’s ability to negotiate with other countries.

“The senators’ letter, in the guise of a constitutional lesson, ignores two centuries of precedent and threatens to undermine the ability of any future American President, whether Democrat or Republican, to negotiate with other nations on behalf of the United States,” he said in a statement Monday night.

Even former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonElection fears recede for House Republicans To woo black voters in Georgia, Dems need to change their course of action Trump lawyer touts petition to stop 'soft coup' against Trump MORE, speaking at a New York press conference about the controversy over her private email account, sought to hammer the GOP. She said the letter was “out of step with the best traditions of American leadership.”

In a statement, Coats pointed to the need to end the partisanship in order for Republicans to win the policy battle.

“Though we may disagree on tactics, we all recognize that bipartisan support is necessary to override President Obama’s promised veto,” he said in a statement.