GOP letter to Tehran backfires

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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 McConnellGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat McConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Brent Budowsky: A plea to Alabama voters 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 CruzDebbie Wasserman Schultz marks 10 years as breast cancer survivor Foreign agent registration is no magical shield against Russian propaganda Let Trump be Trump and he'll sail through 2020 MORE (Texas) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulLexington mayor launches bid for Congress Trump-free Kennedy Center Honors avoids politics Meet the Iran hawk who could be Trump's next secretary of State MORE (Ky.), and freshman Sen. Tom CottonTom CottonGOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration Grassley offers DACA fix tied to tough enforcement measures Five things senators should ask Tom Cotton if he’s nominated to lead the CIA 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 CollinsOvernight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids Study: ObamaCare bills backed by Collins would lower premiums Right scrambles GOP budget strategy MORE (R-Maine) told a group of reporters on Tuesday.

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat Sasse: RNC help for Roy Moore 'doesn't make any sense' Sasse calls RNC decision to resume support for Moore 'bad' and 'sad' 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 CorkerFormer Dem Tenn. gov to launch Senate bid: report McConnell 'almost certain' GOP will pass tax reform Former New Mexico gov: Trump's foreign policy is getting 'criticized by everybody' 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 CoatsNational counterterrorism chief to retire at the end of year Former intel chief Hayden: Think twice on a Trump job offer Counterintelligence needs reboot for 21st century MORE (Ind.), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Finance: Trump says shutdown 'could happen' | Ryan, conservatives inch closer to spending deal | Senate approves motion to go to tax conference | Ryan promises 'entitlement reform' in 2018 Senate approves motion to go to tax conference House conservatives, Ryan inch closer toward spending deal MORE (Tenn.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Week ahead: Trump expected to shrink two national monuments GOP on verge of opening Arctic refuge to drilling MORE (Alaska) and Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranObstruction of justice watch: Trump attacks the FBI America isn't ready to let Sessions off his leash The Hill's Whip List: Where Republicans stand on Senate tax bill 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) MenendezSenate ethics panel resumes Menendez probe after judge declares mistrial Judge declares mistrial in Menendez bribery case Menendez jury deadlocked, ordered to keep trying 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 KirkHigh stakes as Trump heads to Hill Five things to watch for at Trump-Senate GOP meeting Giffords, Scalise highlight party differences on guns 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 ClintonGrassley blasts Democrats over unwillingness to probe Clinton GOP lawmakers cite new allegations of political bias in FBI Top intel Dem: Trump Jr. refused to answer questions about Trump Tower discussions with father 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.