Obama, GOP grapple over Iran

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The war of words over President Obama’s foreign policy reached a fever pitch on Monday as Democrats assailed Senate Republicans for issuing an open letter to the leaders of Iran.

The rebukes came all the way from the top of the party, with Obama hitting Republicans for making “common cause” with factions in Iran that are determined to thwart diplomacy.

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“I think it’s somewhat ironic to see some members of Congress wanting to make common cause with the hardliners in Iran,” Obama said.

Forty-seven Senate Republicans signed onto the open letter, which warns that the next occupant of the Oval Office could scrap a nuclear deal “with the stroke of a pen” — something they said Iran should “seriously consider as negotiations progress.”

“It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system. … Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement,” they wrote.

The unusual foray into foreign policy drew a chorus of denunciations from Democrats, who by turns called the letter “appalling,” “juvenile,” “cynical,” “brazen” and “inappropriate.”

Perhaps the harshest denunciation came from Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason Reid2020 Democrats fight to claim Obama's mantle on health care Reid says he wishes Franken would run for Senate again Panel: How Biden's gaffes could cost him against Trump MORE (D-Nev.), who took to the Senate floor to accuse Republicans of “empowering the ayatollahs” in Iran.

“It’s unprecedented for one political party to directly intervene in an international negotiation with the sole goal of embarrassing the president of the United States,” Reid said.

“Republicans need to find a way to get over their animosity of President Obama,” he added.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest stressed that it is improper for Congress to interfere in foreign policy, and said any diplomatic deal with Iran would not be subject to congressional approval.

Republicans, who have sought to flex their muscle on foreign policy this year, defended the letter, saying it’s important that they prevent the administration from giving away too much in the talks.

Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonCongress must address gender gap in nominations to military service academies GOP senators press Google on reports it developed a smart speaker with Huawei Sunday shows - Mass shootings grab the spotlight MORE (R-Ark.) said the Obama administration has already conceded that Iran could maintain “robust uranium enrichment capability,” and that the pact could sunset in 10 years.

“Those two terms alone make this deal unacceptable — dangerous to the United States and dangerous to the world,” Cotton said Monday on Fox News’s “Fox & Friends.”  

Cotton tweeted the letter in Farsi to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, with the message “in case you need a translation.” 

Iran dismissed the letter as politically motivated.

“In our view, this letter has no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy,” said Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

The open letter served as a clear warning to the White House that the Republican Congress will not rubber-stamp a nuclear pact with Iran, Israel’s chief adversary in the Middle East.

The threat carries real weight; more than a dozen Senate Democrats are prepared to back new sanctions legislation against Iran if the talks run off course.

One expert said the Iranians have factored the political dynamic in Washington into their calculations.

“They themselves have expressed uncertainty about the American political system,” said Robert Einhorn, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and an Iran negotiator under the Obama administration. 

Monday’s letter was just the latest move by the new Republican Congress to challenge Obama on foreign policy, an area where the public has given him low marks.

House Republicans fired the opening salvo in January with their invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who last week implored Congress to help him stop a “bad deal” with Iran.

The letter also comes after an unsuccessful attempt by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellAre Democrats turning Trump-like? House Democrat calls for gun control: Cities can ban plastic straws but 'we can't ban assault weapons?' Churches are arming and training congregants in response to mass shootings: report MORE (R-Ky.) to bring up legislation that would require congressional review of a nuclear deal. McConnell canceled the vote after Democrats vowed to withhold support until March 24, the deadline for reaching the “framework” of an agreement.

Redoubling their offensive, 19 Republicans on Monday fired off a letter to Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryTrump's winning weapon: Time The Memo: O'Rourke looks to hit reset button #FreeAustinTice trending on anniversary of kidnapping in Syria MORE demanding that any Iran deal be conditioned upon the release of three jailed Americans.

“It is unacceptable that as the United States engages with Iran, human rights violations at the hands of Iranian officials go unchecked, and Americans languish in Iranian jail cells,” the senators wrote.

While the GOP is rallying against the Iran negotiations, seven Republican senators chose not to sign the open letter, including Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerTrump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid Meet the key Senate player in GOP fight over Saudi Arabia Trump says he's 'very happy' some GOP senators have 'gone on to greener pastures' MORE (Tenn.), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

“As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Corker’s focus is on getting a veto-proof majority to support his bipartisan bill for congressional review of any comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran,” said a Corker aide. 

The other Republicans who did not sign the letter were Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCook Political Report moves Susan Collins Senate race to 'toss up' The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy Trump crosses new line with Omar, Tlaib, Israel move MORE (Maine), Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray Coats11 Essential reads you missed this week Trump crosses new line with Omar, Tlaib, Israel move Hillicon Valley: Deepfakes pose 2020 test for media | States beg Congress for more election security funds | Experts worry campaigns falling short on cybersecurity | Trump officials urge reauthorization of NSA surveillance program MORE (Ind.), Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranBiden has a lot at stake in first debate The Hill's Morning Report — Trump turns the page back to Mueller probe Trump praises Thad Cochran: 'A real senator with incredible values' MORE (Miss.), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderThe Hill's Morning Report - How will Trump be received in Dayton and El Paso? McConnell faces pressure to bring Senate back for gun legislation Criminal justice reform should extend to student financial aid MORE (Tenn.), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeArpaio considering running for former sheriff job after Trump pardon Overnight Energy: Warren edges past Sanders in poll of climate-focused voters | Carbon tax shows new signs of life | Greens fuming at Trump plans for development at Bears Ears monument Carbon tax shows new signs of life in Congress MORE (Ariz.) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThe Hill's Morning Report - Progressives, centrists clash in lively Democratic debate Senate braces for brawl over Trump's spy chief Congress kicks bipartisan energy innovation into higher gear MORE (Alaska). Murkowski and Coats are up for reelection in 2016.

-- Story updated at 9:37 a.m.

An open letter to the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran