Inside the beltway pols predict that President Barack Obama is close to signing an agreement with Iran to limit the country’s nuclear program in exchange for an easing of economic sanctions that have severely damaged the country’s economy and provoked social unrest among the nation’s 81 million people – 43% of which are under 24 years of age with no memory of Iran under the Shah.
While President Obama is free to sign an agreement, that’s all it is – an agreement that a future president could abolish with the stroke of a pen.
To drive home this point, freshmen Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK) circulated a letter to Iran’s leaders earlier this week telling them how things work in the United States. The president can sign treaties but they don’t take effect unless the Senate ratifies them.
47 Republican senators signed the letter including all the Republican leaders in the Senate along with a number of potential 2016 presidential contenders including Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY). Quoting the letter:
“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”…“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.”
Letter opponents claim that the next president and Congress would have a hard time changing or canceling any Iran deal without saying how a future president would be bound by an unratified treaty.
Josh Rogan writing for BloombergView quoted Sen. Cotton as saying “Iran’s ayatollahs need to know before agreeing to any nuclear deal that … any unilateral executive agreement is one they accept at their own peril.”
Republican opposition to any nuclear agreement with Iran that would allow the Islamic nation to enrich uranium (a precursor to nuclear weapons but not required by a “peaceful nuclear program) is not confined to the Senate. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and former Texas Governor Rick Perry have both come out against any agreement that allows uranium enrichment to continue.
To punctuate the role of the Senate in any nuclear deal, Republicans pointed to a March 2002 letter that then Senator Joe Biden – Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – sent Secretary of State Colin Powel about the role the Senate would play in any treaty with Russia on limiting strategic nuclear weapons. In the letter, Biden said:
“Clearly, any such agreement would most likely include significant obligations by the United States regarding deployed U.S. strategic nuclear warheads. We are therefore convinced that such an agreement would constitute a treaty subject to the advice and consent of the Senate.
Every significant arms control agreement during the past three decades has been transmitted to the Senate pursuant to the Treaty Clause of the Constitution”… “we see no reason whatsoever to alter this practice….”
Cotton’s letter compliments legislation sponsored by Senators Bob Corker (R-TN), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) would mandate Senate review of any nuclear deal with Iran deal – a measure that would no doubt face a presidential veto.
President Obama and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) have charged that Sen. Cotton’s letter is an attempt to complicate negotiations and scuttle an agreement with Iran the Senate’s constitutional powers and prerogatives notwithstanding.