The Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously passed a bill last week that would require Congressional approval of any agreement made with Iran. The bill has the support of both Republicans and Democrats, and The New York Times reported that President Obama has reluctantly agreed to the measure after a series of last-minute compromises and concessions.
While I am overjoyed that Congress has finally decided to compromise on something, this piece of legislation oversteps Congress’ Constitutional authority in foreign policy and puts any hope of a finalized agreement at risk.
According to the Constitution, the President “shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur…” The Iranian Nuclear deal, if one is reached by the deadline of June 30th, would be an executive agreement and not a treaty. Congress’ only role to play in this agreement is voting on whether or not to lift economic sanction, which a key role as any long-term agreement with Iran must occur alongside the lifting of sanctions.
By attempting to interpose themselves into the negotiations, Congress is jeopardizing any possible agreement that might be made and risks making the negotiations more about U.S. domestic party politics. The Wall Street Journal has also reported that Iranian legislators warned that Iran’s parliament could pass a similar bill, which would further politicize and complicate negotiations.
This bill is one of the first pieces of foreign policy legislation we have seen from this session of Congress, and marks a sudden end to Congress’ disinterest in legislating foreign policy. MSNBC reported back in March that Congress had no plans or intentions to vote on authorizing the military operations that had been taking place against ISIS in Iraq, despite the military strikes happening for nearly 8 months. Under the War Power’s Resolution the President is able to take military action for 60 days before having to go before Congress and request authorization.
The authorization of force a clearly defined power Congress holds, and is an important check on the President’s role as Commander in Chief. I am all for Congress taking a stand on matters of foreign policy, but they cannot pick and choose which issues of national security to involve themselves in. They have a constitutionally enumerated role to play in matters of war and global economics. What Congress does not have is a voice in the negotiations with foreign nations.
Last month, freshman Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), wrote an open letter to the leaders of Iran. In that letter he condescendingly “educated” the Iranian officials on how the American government works and what steps future Republican presidents could take to renege on any deal President Obama makes. That letter was signed by 47 Senate Republicans, including presidential hopefuls Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. This letter, as well as recent comments by Cruz and Rubio, who both said they would scrap any agreement reached with Iran, illustrates Congress’ disinterest in actually engaging in diplomacy. Rather, members of Congress are more interested in taking power away from the President in order to further their own personal goals and aspirations.