Doctors say, “First, do no harm.” Senate Republicans respond, “Do harm.”
By Senior Fellow John Isaacs
The Republicans have done it again. With their letter signed by 47 senators – but zero Democrats – the GOP is again turning the challenging and serious matter of negotiations with Iran into a partisan political gambit.
The 47 Senators wrote to instruct Iranian leaders about our Constitutional system: “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.”
The originator of this letter, Arkansas freshman Senator Tom Cotton, has made it clear what his intentions are. Speaking to Heritage Action for America on January 13, 2015, he said: "The end of these negotiations isn't an unintended consequence of congressional action. It is very much an intended consequence."
Forty-six of his colleagues are now happy to join in a partisan, anti-negotiations statement. One has to wonder if the signatories understand that the alternatives to a deal to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran are grim—Iran getting a nuclear bomb, or the U.S. bombing Iran.
Ironically, a letter which purports to give a Constitutional lecture to Iranians gets it wrong by saying that the Senate ratifies a treaty by a two-thirds majority. A President ratifies; the Senate gives its advice and consent.
There is a consistent pattern of Senate Republicans taking a potential winning hand and turning bi-partisan efforts into reckless one-party moves to undermine international negotiations that include Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Russia and China.
Just last week, the same day as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell invoked a rule to bypass the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and bring to the floor directly the Corker “Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015,” which would require a congressional vote on any nuclear deal with Iran. McConnell scheduled the vote for March 10. The bill had bi-partisan support, and may still, but bypassing the Committee’s chance to amend the bill did not.
After nine Democrats and one independent objected to this partisan gambit, McConnell was forced to cancel the vote.
A motto of the medical community “First, do no harm,” the phrase reminds health care providers to consider the possible harm that any intervention might do.
The Republicans have turned this motto on its head: Do harm to the negotiations. Do harm to U.S. foreign policy. Do harm to President Barack Obama.
Over and over.
It happened in early 2014 as well. A bi-partisan group of 59 Senators co-sponsored the Menendez (D-N.J.)-Kirk (R-Ill.)-Schumer (D-N.Y.) pro-sanctions Iran bill. Frustrated with inaction on the bill, on February 4, 2014, 42 Republicans led by Sen. Mark Kirk sent a letter to then-Majority Leader Harry Reid demanding a vote on the bill.
Menendez then, as last week, protested turning Iran into a partisan issue. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which tries to work with both parties, backed away for the push for a vote because the GOP was making it a one-sided issue. AIPAC issued a statement: “We agree with the Chairman that stopping the Iranian nuclear program should rest on bipartisan support.”
Speaker Boehner’s invitation to the Israeli Prime Minister to speak before Congress without informing the White House likewise was a partisan stunt.
There you have it. On at least four occasions regarding the Iran talks, the Republicans have made their true intentions clear. They want to turn a serious international matter into an effort to undermine the Obama administration and sabotage the talks.
It should also be clear to Democrats and independents who worked to put together bi-partisan efforts that they should instead steer clear of Republicans whose real intent is now obvious. These Democrats and one independent may have joined with the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with the best intentions, but ultimately are being used by the Republicans for their own political ends.