The Letter of Our Discontent
This column by ACRU Senior Fellow Robert Knight was published March 15, 2015 at The Washington Times.
As our republic reels under the Obama administration’s lawlessness, it’s heartening to see the Republican-led Congress show some backbone —- at least in foreign policy. OK, with the glaring exception of illegal immigration.
First, House Speaker John Boehner invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to a joint session on March 3. Mr. Netanyahu drew 27 standing ovations as he warned about the folly of trusting Iran’s mullahs with a nuclear pact.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, visibly upset during Mr. Netanyahu’s remarks boycotted by 56 of her fellow Democrats (plus Vice President Joe Biden and independent Vermont Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders), said she was “near tears throughout the prime minister’s speech —- saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States.” Where’s that giant gavel when you need it?
Forty-seven GOP Senate members then signed a March 9 letter drafted by Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas to the Iranians, informing them that any nuclear agreement made by Mr. Obama (and with the four other permanent United Nations Security Council members —- the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China —- plus Germany) without Congress‘ approval could be short-lived.
The Constitution’s Article II, Section 2 assigns the Senate the responsibility to consent to treaties by a two-thirds vote. Although there is nothing in the Constitution about presidents negotiating executive agreements with foreign nations, the practice has been upheld by the courts over the years.
The senators’ letter states that they “will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei. 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.”
Perhaps the senators want to remind the mullahs of Ronald Reagan’s 1980 election. The Iranians stonewalled Jimmy Carter for 444 days over the American embassy hostages in Tehran right up until Mr. Reagan’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 1981, when the hostages were suddenly freed.
Mrs. Pelosi, who bucked a Bush administration policy of isolating Syria in 2007 by meeting with dictator Bashar Assad, brushed aside comparisons with the GOP letter, noting that her trip was coordinated with the Bush administration, and that some GOP lawmakers also met with Mr. Assad. Fair enough. But the stakes are far higher today with a nuclear threat, and Mr. Obama has shredded his credibility by claiming executive invincibility.
Much of the media predictably condemned Mr. Cotton. Some cited the Logan Act, the 1799 law forbidding unauthorized citizens from negotiating with foreign governments that have disputes with the United States.
The only indictment under the Logan Act occurred in 1803, when a Kentucky farmer, Francis Flournoy, wrote an article advocating a new nation out west to be allied with Napoleon Bonaparte’s France. President Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase of those western lands from France shortly after made the grand jury’s indictment moot.
If the Logan Act had real teeth, it should have been invoked when Texas Rep. Jim Wright, the Democratic House speaker during the Reagan administration, met with communist Sandinista leaders in Nicaragua in the 1980s to undermine U.S. support for the pro-freedom Contras.
Also, Media Research Center reports that, “there has been no [TV] network mention of a letter that then-Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) sent to the Soviet Union in 1983 as an attempt to undermine then-President Reagan’s nuclear talks with the Soviet government and his re-election campaign in 1984.”
Over at MSNBC, Chris Matthews hinted darkly that racism —- of course —- motivated the GOP senators’ letter: “[S]ome day people are going to look back on this era and they’re going to say, this president was treated worse than anybody by his opponent, and they’ll think, ‘What was it about him?’ And they’ll remember what it was about him that gave him this terrible vulnerability.”
Maybe he was talking about Mr. Obama’s uncanny ability to send thrills up certain newsmen’s legs.
Senate Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid, whose embarrassing rants on the Senate floor are the stuff of crazy legend, accused the letter signers of having “the sole goal of embarrassing the president of the United States.”
Well, that would usually be bad. But I believe in the senators’ face-value motive —- to put the brakes on a rotten deal that could bring the world to the brink of nuclear Armageddon.
While the Constitution gives the president the responsibility of making treaties and appointing ambassadors, his authority is not infinitely elastic, which is good if history is any measure.
When British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain naively gave Adolf Hitler a green light at Munich in September 1939 to swallow up Czechoslovakia, it’s likely that many of Britain’s members of Parliament later regretted that they had not listened to Winston Churchill and somehow scuttled the deal. Less than two years later, bombs fell on British cities.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki has assured us that Congress has no power to alter international deals by the president, and besides, this would not be a treaty requiring ratification. Really? Then what would?
What is more worthy of Senate review than a pact involving potential nuclear weapons, several nations and the security of the United States?