Republicans Blame Obama For Tom Cotton Letter

03/10/2015 07:43 pm ET | Updated Mar 11, 2015

WASHINGTON -- Republicans, under fire for a letter signed by 47 senators to the leadership of Iran, said Tuesday that complaints about violating foreign policy convention should be leveled not at them, but at President Barack Obama.

GOP lawmakers spent much of Tuesday being pressed on why Senate party leadership went around the White House with an open letter warning Iran that any nuclear agreement may be undercut in the future by Congress or Obama's successor. Several Republicans sought to distance themselves from the letter, saying that while they may not agree with the direction of nuclear talks with Iran, it was the purview of the president to conduct them.

But those who support the letter -- even some who didn't add their names -- deflected the blame. If it weren't for Obama's failure to consult lawmakers about the negotiations, or his threatened veto of a proposed bill to give Congress the final vote on a nuclear agreement, senators wouldn't have had to speak out in the first place, they argued.

“I think that, no doubt, the fact that the president, you know, issued a veto threat on a very common-sense piece of legislation, probably evoked, you know, a good deal of passion,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told The Huffington Post Tuesday. Corker, who is leading the push for a veto-proof majority on the bill to grant Congress oversight of a nuclear agreement, did not sign letter, which was organized by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). Nevertheless, he showed no signs of ill will toward his junior colleague.

“No, no, no,” Corker responded, when asked if he was concerned Cotton’s letter would cost the bill much-needed Democratic votes.

Corker's comments were more diplomatic than those offered by other Republicans on Tuesday. But they nevertheless reflected a defensiveness within the GOP, which is taking heat for the letter not just from Democrats, but from leading foreign policy analysts as well.

Former New York Gov. George Pataki (R), appearing at a presidential forum hosted by the International Association of Fire Fighters, conceded that he believed foreign policy to be "prerogative of the president." But even within that construct, he added, Obama was to blame for Senate Republicans trying to undermine his talks with Iran.

"I also understand the frustration when this president has done everything in his power to prevent awareness on the part of congressional leadership on exactly what the terms under consideration are, or his willingness to sit down with Congress and talk about the legislation they are trying to pass right now," said Pataki, who is exploring a presidential bid. "I think if we had a president who had engaged more in understanding that Congress has a very critical role in all elements of government, we could avoid this type of sad situation."

Even Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who expressed qualms about undermining the presidency, said he agreed with the tone of the Cotton’s letter. “The president is really taking a risk by not agreeing to get either confirmation or approval from the House or Senate,” King said, speaking at the same forum as Pataki.

While Congressional Republicans described the letter as reclaiming their rightful role as presidential overseers, Democrats resoundingly criticized what they said was a partisan attempt to sabotage ongoing negotiations between Iran, the U.S., and five partner nations, aimed at ensuring Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful.

“The letter sent on March 9th by forty-seven Republican Senators to the Islamic Republic of Iran, expressly designed to undercut a sitting President in the midst of sensitive international negotiations, is beneath the dignity of an institution I revere,” Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement Monday evening.

As the controversy escalated on Tuesday, talks on Iran's nuclear program continued, as did efforts to ensure that Congress can approve or veto an agreement, if one is reached. Those organizing the letter netted an additional supporter -- a leading Democrat at that. Corker said Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) now backed his efforts.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who supports Corker as well, said he was confident there would be enough Democratic votes to bypass a presidential veto and secure a congressional say on an agreement with Iran. That, he added, was adding to the frustrations of the White House over Cotton's letter to Iran.

“What this is all about is that they know that this deal, from what we know about it, the number of centrifuges and the 10-year expiration date, that they would have one heck of a time getting it through the Congress of the United States, including a lot of Democrat votes," McCain told HuffPost. "This is why there’s the hysterical reaction.”

  • Ahmadinejad out, Rouhani in
  • The thaw in relations owes a lot to this guy - president Hassan Rouhani, who was elected in June 2013. In the 19 months between the British embassy closing and Rouhani's election, relations between Britain and Iran failed to improve - Britain even sending a warship to the Gulf over fears Iran may block the strategically important Strait of Hormuz. But Rouhani's election marks a sea change. He is seen as more moderate than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and is elected promising to improve relations with the West. His election prompts Britain to say it is interested in improving relations "step by step".
  • Rouhani addresses the UN
  • Rouhani visits New York City in September 2013, three months after his election. It is seen as a major break with his predecessor's line on "The Great Satan" and signals a desire to improve US/Iran relations. He addresses the UN, saying "peace is within reach" and offers negotiations to allay "reasonable concerns" the West has over his country's nuclear programme. In the same month, foreign secretary William Hague meets with his Iranian counterpart. Hague said he welcomed Iran's offers to slow down its uranium enrichment programme.
  • Obama and Rouhani's historic phone call
  • September 28 2013 - A 15-minute phone call between Obama and Rouhani is hailed as a historic moment that ends the 34-year diplomatic freeze between the two countries. It is the first conversation between an American and Iranian leader since 1979. Rouhani tweeted about the conversation, saying Obama ended it by saying "goodbye" in Farsi. After historic phone conversation with @BarackObama, President #Rouhani in plane abt to depart for Tehran. #UNGA pic.twitter.com/TFtLWxbbaV— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) September 27, 2013
  • Diplomats exchanged
  • In the same month, foreign secretary William Hague meets with his Iranian counterpart. Hague said he welcomed Iran's offers to slow down its uranium enrichment programme. In October, Hague and Mohammad Javad Zarif (pictured right) announced that the countries will exchange diplomats with a view to re-opening permanent embassies in each country.
  • Cameron calls Rouhani
  • November 2013 - After Obama becomes the first American president to call the Iranian leader in 34 years, David Cameron calls him too, becoming the first prime minister to do so in more than a decade. "The two leaders discussed the bilateral relationship between Britain and Iran welcoming the steps taken since President Rouhani took office," a Downing Street spokesman says. "They agreed to continue efforts to improve the relationship on a step by step and reciprocal basis." Cameron also implores Rouhani to be "more transparent" with Iran's nuclear programme, Downing Street says.
  • About that embassy...
  • Suddenly, being friends became a lot more urgent when ISIS took Mosul, Iraq's second city, and began tearing through the country executing opponents and imposing strict Islamic law on the population. The Sunni militants' rise has been blamed on the pro-Shia stance of Iraq's Malaki government. Under Saddam, the country's Sunni minority dominated political life and fought an eight-year with Iran, which is a Shia majority country and does not like the idea of a terrorist army on its doorstep.

CONVERSATIONS