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Outrage over GOP's letter to Iran

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A letter from Senate Republicans to Iran about the pending nuclear deal undermines President Obama's authority to conduct foreign policy, the White House charged Monday.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest was unusually blunt in ripping the Senate GOP, saying “it’s surprising to me there are some Republican senators who are seeking to establish a backchannel with hardliners in Iran to undermine an agreement with Iran and the international community.”

Earnest said Republicans have a “long and rather sordid history" of putting military options ahead of diplomatic ones, and called the letter, signed by 47 GOP lawmakers, “the continuation of a partisan strategy to undermine the president’s authority."

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The GOP letter, spearheaded by Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonOvernight Defense: Lawmakers release compromise defense bill in defiance of Trump veto threat | Senate voting next week on blocking UAE arms sale | Report faults lack of training, 'chronic fatigue' in military plane crashes Compromise defense bill excludes competing nuclear testing language Republican senators introduce bill to protect government workers from being targeted at home MORE (R-Ark.), warns Iranian leaders that any agreement between Washington and Tehran could be voided by Congress and simply not upheld once Obama leaves the White House in 2017.

“Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement,” they wrote. “The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time."

The White House spokesman stressed that a final deal endorsed by President Obama would not be subject to congressional approval, and said any agreement would require commitment from Iran to an “intrusive” inspections program of nuclear facilities, manufacturing sites and uranium mines.

“All of this is much more likely to be successful and more enduring than the military option our Republican opponents seem to be advocating,” he said.

Congressional Democrats joined the White House in denouncing the letter, with Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinCongress faces late-year logjam Funding bill hits snag as shutdown deadline looms Criminal justice groups offer support for Durbin amid fight for Judiciary spot MORE (D-Ill.) calling it “a cynical effort by Republican Senators to undermine sensitive international negotiations — it weakens America’s hand and highlights our political divisions to the rest of the world.”

“Understand that if these negotiations fail, a military response to Iran developing their nuclear capability becomes more likely,” added Durbin, the second-ranking Senate Democrat.

Senate Republicans “should think twice about whether their political stunt is worth the threat of another war in the Middle East,” he added.

Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerBiden plays it cool as Trump refuses to concede The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Harris launch Trump offensive in first joint appearance Bottom line MORE (D-Calif.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, accused Republicans of trying to “sabotage” the nuclear talks.

"This bizarre, inappropriate letter is a desperate ploy to scuttle a comprehensive agreement and the chance for a peaceful resolution, which is in the best interests of the United States, Israel and the world,” Boxer said in a statement.

The White House and Democrats appeared to be coordinating their response, with Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidFeinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight Whitehouse says Democratic caucus will decide future of Judiciary Committee Bottom line MORE (D-Nev.) assailing Republicans on the Senate floor as “undermining our commander in chief while empowering the ayatollahs."  

"Republicans need to find a way to get over their animosity of President Obama,” Reid said.

"It's unprecedented for one political party to directly intervene in an international negotiation with a sole goal of embarrassing the president of the United States."

The letter is just the latest instance of Republicans using control of Congress to challenge Obama on foreign policy, in part by going over his head.

House Republicans flexed their muscle earlier this year when they invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to deliver a speech to a joint session of Congress on the nuclear talks without first notifying the White House.

Netanyahu used the speech last week to assail the diplomatic talks, warning the deal that is in the works will inevitably lead to Tehran becoming a nuclear power.

Now Senate Republicans are making their voices heard by warning the Iranian regime that a nuclear deal could be rolled back if the GOP wins control of the White House in 2016.

Cotton said Republicans who are considering presidential bids should embrace the letter as part of their platform, noting that Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSenate to vote next week on blocking Trump's UAE arms sale GOP urges Trump not to tank defense bill over tech fight Pressure builds for coronavirus relief with no clear path to deal MORE (Fla.), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulOvernight Defense: Lawmakers release compromise defense bill in defiance of Trump veto threat | Senate voting next week on blocking UAE arms sale | Report faults lack of training, 'chronic fatigue' in military plane crashes Senate to vote next week on blocking Trump's UAE arms sale McConnell in tough position as House eyes earmark return MORE (Ky.), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate committee approves nominations of three FEC commissioners Cruz urges Supreme Court to take up Pennsylvania election challenge OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump administration proceeds with rollback of bird protections despite objections | Trump banking proposal on fossil fuels sparks backlash from libertarians | EU 2019 greenhouse gas emissions down 24 percent MORE (Texas) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamBiden: Trump attending inauguration is 'of consequence' to the country The Memo: Harris moves signal broad role as VP Former US attorney asks for probe of allegations Graham pressured Georgia official MORE (S.C.) have already signed it.

“I would encourage presidential candidates to join us. We already have four senators on the letter, who were thinking about running for president,” Cotton said Monday during an interview with Fox News’s “Fox and Friends.”

Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffBarr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Trump pardons Flynn | Lawmakers lash out at decision | Pentagon nixes Thanksgiving dining hall meals due to COVID-19 Democratic impeachment leaders blast Trump's pardon of Flynn MORE (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said he was “appalled” by the GOP's actions.

“I think it's deeply irresponsible to have these GOP senators write to a foreign government in a way that's at odds with the president's policy ... it's beyond disturbing. We are so far beyond politics ending at the water’s edge,” he said Monday during an interview with MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports.”

Schiff said that based on the outcome of the negotiations lawmakers are “going to face some tough choices ahead."

“But I think all of us, Democrats and Republicans, House members and senators, ought to keep our powder dry until we see whether there's an agreement, and then there will be plenty of time for us to weigh in,” he said.

— Last updated at 1:57 p.m.