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 ReidSanders hires veteran progressive operative to manage 2020 bid Constitutional conservatives need to oppose the national emergency Klobuchar: 'I don't remember' conversation with Reid over alleged staff mistreatment 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 CottonSenate approves border bill that prevents shutdown 'Morning Joe' host quizzes Howard Schultz on price of a box of Cheerios Huawei charges escalate Trump fight with China 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 McConnellDems think they're beating Trump in emergency declaration battle Sanders: 'Not crazy' about nixing the Senate filibuster McCabe: No one in 'Gang of Eight' objected to FBI probe into Trump 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 KerryWarren taps longtime aide as 2020 campaign manager In Virginia, due process should count more than blind team support Trump will give State of Union to sea of opponents 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 CorkerSasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger RNC votes to give Trump 'undivided support' ahead of 2020 Sen. Risch has unique chance to guide Trump on foreign policy 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 CollinsTexas senator introduces bill to produce coin honoring Bushes GOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats On unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 MORE (Maine), Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsChinese, Iranian hackers escalate cyberattacks against US entities: report Ex-Trump official says intel community's testimony interfered in US-North Korea talks Is a presidential appointment worth the risk? MORE (Ind.), Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranTop 5 races to watch in 2019 Bottom Line Races Dems narrowly lost show party needs to return to Howard Dean’s 50 state strategy MORE (Miss.), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderDems ready aggressive response to Trump emergency order, as GOP splinters Congress must move forward on measure dealing with fentanyl GOP advances rules change to speed up confirmation of Trump nominees MORE (Tenn.), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union Sasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger MORE (Ariz.) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOn unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Trump escalates border fight with emergency declaration On The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week 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