Is GOP Senators' Letter to Iran a Green Light for Unilateral Action?

03/12/2015 06:37 pm ET | Updated May 12, 2015

Memo to the GOP: You are the new majority in both Houses of Congress. Based on recent actions by many of its members, that status seems in danger. Several Republican members of the U.S. Senate sent a bizarre letter that is a combination of civics lesson and shadowy threat to the leadership of Iran. In it, the 47 senators wrote that:

It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system. Thus, we are writing to bring to your attention two features of our Constitution -- the power to make binding international agreements and the different character of federal offices -- which you should seriously consider as negotiations progress.

After elaborating these two features, the senators imply that hammering out a deal with the U.S. would essentially be an exercise in futility, stating "What these two constitutional provisions mean is that we 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."

In addition of saying that this agreement is going nowhere, it doesn't even accurately describe the law. It is not required for the "Congress" (which historically means both Houses of Congress) to approve this action, but specifically the U.S. Senate. You would think 47 members of that body would know that.

If the tone was not insulting enough, the senators close by saying "We hope this letter enriches your knowledge of our constitutional system and promotes mutual understanding and clarity as nuclear negotiations progress."

Several members of the GOP have lashed out against this letter. The Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee essentially said he didn't get it. Republican Sen. Bob Corker said,

I didn't think it was going to further our efforts to get to a place where Congress would play the appropriate role that it should on Iran. I did not think that the letter was something that was going to help get us to an outcome that we're all seeking, and that is Congress playing that appropriate role.

What the senior Republican senator was politely saying is that a letter like this assumes the president would not seek the consent of the senate (as stated in Article II, Section 2). Corker certainly believes it is expected to get approval, and he is implying that these senators' actions were raising the white flag of surrender. It is the kind of letter that many could interpret as a green light for unilateral action by the president.

Even the more hawkish elements in the conservative ranks are questioning the sensibilities behind this GOP action. Former U.S. Ambassador Alan Keyes pushed back against the charges that the act by these senators was "treasonous," but still questionable, stating "it plays into the hands of people in the world who want to see America as divided," Keyes told Newsmax TV. "And when we speak with a divided voice, we are weakened."

In the end, these are the actions of a frustrated party, stuck in a minority mindset. A group that doesn't know how to exercise power and one destined to maintain minority status. It relishes being the "loyal opposition" because it appears to loathe leadership. A Congress that sends ugly letters instead of making it clear it will put up an appropriate fight is similar to children who do not like how the game is going and are threatening to take their marbles home. To make matters worse, they are potentially inadvertently giving the president permission to take an action they oppose. This is no way to govern.

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