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 ReidDoctors are dying by suicide every day and we are not talking about it Impeachment trial throws curveball into 2020 race Harry Reid: Early voting states Iowa, New Hampshire 'not representative of the country anymore' 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 CottonHillicon Valley: House passes anti-robocall bill | Senators inch forward on privacy legislation | Trump escalates fight over tech tax | Illinois families sue TikTok | Senators get classified briefing on ransomware Senators urge FERC to protect critical infrastructure from Huawei threats Enhancing protections for sensitive information in congressional investigations 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 McConnellTrump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans Schumer briefs Democrats on impeachment trial 'mechanics' Trump legal team gears up for Senate impeachment trial in meeting with GOP senators 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 KerryNew Hampshire parochialism, not whiteness, bedevils Democrats Lessons of the Kamala Harris campaign Overnight Energy: Pelosi vows to push for Paris climate goals | Senate confirms Brouillette to succeed Perry at Energy | EPA under attack from all sides over ethanol rule 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 CorkerRNC says ex-Trump ambassador nominee's efforts 'to link future contributions to an official action' were 'inappropriate' Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing 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 CollinsSenate confirms Trump pick labeled 'not qualified' by American Bar Association Republicans raise concerns over Trump pardoning service members Collins opposes Trump's district court pick MORE (Maine), Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsFormer US intel official says Trump would often push back in briefings Hillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant Intelligence agencies have stopped collecting cellphone data without warrants: letter MORE (Ind.), Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranMike Espy announces Mississippi Senate bid Biden has a lot at stake in first debate The Hill's Morning Report — Trump turns the page back to Mueller probe MORE (Miss.), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderRick Perry says Trump is the 'chosen one' sent 'to do great things' Impeachment will make some Senate Republicans squirm Crunch time for Congress on surprise medical bills MORE (Tenn.), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Kelly, McSally virtually tied in Arizona Senate race: poll The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing MORE (Ariz.) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThe Hill's Morning Report - Dem impeachment report highlights phone records Republicans raise concerns over Trump pardoning service members Pressure grows on House GOP leaders to hold line ahead of impeachment trial 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