APN Legislative Round-Up: March 13, 2015

1.  Bills, Resolutions & Letters
2.  Surprise! Bibi Uses Congress Appearance in Campaign Ad
3.  The Senate GOP47’s Letter to the Leaders of Iran
4.  Members Weigh in on Senate GOP47’s Iran Letter
5. Hearings
6.  Members on the Record (on things other than Senate GOP47 Iran letter)

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters

($$$ FOR ISRAEL TO FIGHT HAMAS TUNNELS) HR 1349:  Introduced 3/10 by Graham (D-FL) and no cosponsors, “To authorize assistance to Israel to establish an anti-tunneling defense system, and for other purposes.”  Referred to the Armed Services Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee.

(IRAN MUST HELP FREE ROBERT LEVINSON)  S. Res. 99/H. Res. 148: Introduced 3/10 in the Senate by Nelson (D-FL) and Rubio (R-FL), and 3/10 in the House by Deutch (D-FL), Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and Diaz-Balart (R-FL), “Calling on the government of Iran to fulfill their promises of assistance in this case of Robert Levinson, the longest held United States civilian in our Nation's history.”  Referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, respectively.  Deutch press release on the resolution is here.


(DEAR IRAN: DON’T MAKE A DEAL WITH OBAMA) Cotton et al letter:  3/9 saw the publication of an “open letter,” signed by 47 GOP senators, addressed to the leaders of Iran.  The letter in effect warns Iranian leaders that Congress can (and likely will) renege on any nuclear agreement Iran might conclude with the Obama Administration.  The letter was led by unabashedly hawkish, pro-regime-change-in-Iran freshman Senator Cotton (R-AR), who some have suggested may be a contender for the next GOP presidential nomination (or the one after that).  His press release, headlined, “Cotton and 46 Fellow Senators to Send Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” is here.  See Sections 2 and 3, below, for further discussion of the letter,

(DEMANDING CONGRESSIONAL VETO OF IRAN DEAL BEFORE UN CONSIDERATION) Corker letter:  In an apparent effort to deflect focus from the ongoing GOP47 Iran letter debacle and bolster support for his own “let Congress veto an Iran deal” bill (SS. 615), on 3/12 Senator Corker (R-TN) sent a letter to President Obama accusing the president of planning to circumvent Congress by using the UN to cement a nuclear deal with Iran.  The letter disingenuous ignores the fact that Iran negotiations are multilateral, not bilateral (P5+1 and Iran, not U.S. and Iran).  It ignores the self-evident facts that if there is a deal, it will involve Iranian obligations to the international community, not simply the U.S.; it will be grounded in restrictions and oversight activities of the international community and UN agencies, not simply the U.S.; and it will involve sanctions relief granted not simply by the U.S., but by the UN and international community.  Corker’s press release is here.  Press coverage: Times of Israel; New York Times; Yahoo News; the Hill.

(DEMAND RELEASE AMERICANS HELD BY IRAN) Kirk et al letter:  On 3/9, Sens. Kirk (R-IL) and Rubio (R-FL), along with 17 GOP Senate cosigners, sent a letter urging the Obama Administration to demand the unconditional release of American citizens held in Iran as part of their discussions with Iranian officials.  Kirk’s press release is here.

(CHALLENGING STUDENT VISAS FOR IRANIANS) Vitter letter:  On 3/9. Sen. Vitter (R-LA) sent a letter to the State Department’s Inspector General  challenging what Vitter says is a new policy of granting student visas to Iranian students coming to the U.S. to study nuclear engineering.  The letter follows the decision last month of UMass Amherst to lift an earlier ban and now accept Iranian students to into science and engineering programs.  The University noted that “To comply with the law and its impacts, UMass Amherst will develop individualized study plans as appropriate based on a student’s projected coursework and research in conjunction with an offer of admission. The plan will be updated as required during a student’s course of study.” Press coverage of the Vitter letter: here, here, here, and here.


2.  Surprise!  Bibi Uses Congress Appearance in Campaign Ad

It took a few days but to (most likely to nobody’s surprise) Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress is now featured in one of his campaign ads.  Given how tight the Israeli race has become in recent days, this effort to use Congress as a critical “endorsement” is especially troubling.  Many observers had warned that by inviting Netanyahu to address Congress only a couple of weeks before voters would go to the polls, Boehner (R-OH) was in effect giving the impression that the U.S. Congress was endorsing Netanyahu – warnings that were ignored or dismissed.  Many observers also pointed out that Netanyahu had used footage of his previous appearance before Congress in a previous campaign ad - information that was, likewise, ignored or dismissed. 

Now, a little more than a week after Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of Congress, and only a few days before Israelis vote, the headline in the Forward (America’s national Jewish paper) says it all: “Shocker! Benjamin Netanyahu Uses Speech to Congress in Campaign Ad - 'Non-Partisan' Claim Out Window as Election Crunchtime Arrives.”   The headline in vox.com similarly reads, “That didn't take long: Netanyahu features his speech to Congress in new campaign ad.” 

For now, members of Congress have remained silent about the address – and their attendance at it – being exploited in this openly political manner.  The sole exception is Rep. Cohen (D-TN), who refrained from attending the speech out of concern that Netanyahu would use the appearance precisely in this manner.   Cohen issued a blistering statement, headlined “Netanyahu’s Use of Congressional Video in New Campaign Ad Contradicts House Rules, Lays Bare Political Motive Behind Speech.”  It remains to be seen if others will speak out, or if there will be any effort to impose some degree of accountability on Netanyahu – and to prevent future visitors to Congress from exploiting Congress’ hospitality in this same way.  And should Netanyahu come out victorious in next week election, questions will surely be asked about what role this ad may have had in that outcome, coming as it did precisely when polling showed Netanyahu to be increasingly weak.

 Cohen’s statement reads:

“Based on his already having used a speech before Congress as political campaign ad material, I predicted that Prime Minister Netanyahu would use this speech before Congress for political purposes. I had hoped this prediction might have had a chilling effect and caused the Prime Minister to reconsider before using Congress as a campaign backdrop.  Instead, my fears have been realized.  The use of Congressional proceedings in campaign ads is prohibited for Members of Congress and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s predictable use of this footage is one of several reasons I did not attend his speech. I am saddened that Congress is once again being turned into theater and that the Prime Minister made our Capitol into a studio for his political ads, complete with Teleprompters and a live studio audience.”


3.  The Senate GOP47’s Letter to the leaders of Iran

The big story this week, of course, is the March 9th open letter, signed by 47 Republican Senators and addressed to the leaders of Iran, with a simple message: any agreement you make with U.S. President Barack Obama over your nuclear program will not be worth the paper it’s written on; we can block it now or kill it once Obama is out of office.  The letter was spearheaded by Sen. Cotton (R-AR), who has long made clear his opposition to any Iran negotiations; signers include including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

This letter represents a brazen effort to make common cause with those who hate the United States.  It underscores the growing panic of some, both inside and outside Congress, over the possibility that President Obama and his P5+1 partners may be on the brink of achieving a political framework agreement with Iran that the American public and most of the world (apart from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu) will welcome as a “good.”   For all their expressed concerns about a “bad” deal, this new letter demonstrates that GOP Senate hawks and their supporters today consider a “good” deal with Iran an even greater threat – and that they are prepared to pursue increasingly rash, even legally questionable, efforts to try to prevent it.

Was it illegal?  Bloomberg journalist Josh Rogin, who broke the story, stated unequivocally that the letter is meant “to discourage the Iranian regime from signing a deal.” Some reports have noted that the letter is unusual or even “unprecedented.”  Others have suggested (also here, for example) that the letter may violate a U.S. law called the “Logan Act.”  Others have suggested it may not. That Logan Act states:

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both. 

Was it no different than Pelosi’s Trip to Damascus?  Back in 2007, some right-wingers accused then-House Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) of violating the Logan Act by simply meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, based on the tortuous logic that doing so represented a form of prohibited communication with a foreign government; then-House Deputy Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) wrote an article giving credence to those views. Today, some of those seeking to defend (or at least find political cover for) the Senate GOP letter have seized on the 2007 Pelosi story – an appealing “both sides do bad things” narrative that has been picked up by the media.  On March 12, Pelosi’s office went on offense, releasing a brief entitled, “FACT CHECK: Republicans Attempt to Deflect Criticism of Iran Letter by Equating it to Bipartisan Delegation to Syria Led by Speaker Pelosi in 2007.”

In the case of the Senate GOP letter to Iranian leaders – signed by all but 7 GOP senators – the apparent violation of the law is far clearer than in the Pelosi case.  The express goal of the letter is to influence the conduct of the government of Iran, in relation to the dispute with the U.S. over its nuclear program, and with the intent to defeat the White House’s effort to reach an agreement with Iran over that program.  The only “out” signers of the letter might have is that they did not actually send the letter to Iranian leaders, but rather released it as an open letter, which it could be argued does not qualify as “correspondence with” a foreign government (though the fact that the Cotton press release announcing the letter is headlined “Cotton and 46 Fellow Senators to Send Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran” would seem to indicate that the letter was intended as a direct missive to those leaders).   

The argument over whether the law was broken, or who broke it first, will likely never be resolved.  However, based on how big this story has become and how its impact continues to grow, it seems clear that Americans from across the political spectrum view the letter as a far greater transgression – if not of the law than of American interests, integrity, patriotism, decorum, and common sense – than the Pelosi trip (which is in fact getting far more attention now than it did back in 2007, when it barely registered outside of Washington).

Will this letter hurt Republicans?  There is virtually no chance GOP Senators will face legal repercussions for possibly violating U.S. law by signing this letter.  Potential political repercussions, however, are another story – at least based on the way the letter has played in the media, coast-to-coast, this past week.  And all week, top trending topics on Twitter included: #47Traitors, #IranLetter, Logan Act and, most recently, #gopwantswar. 

It seems that even some who are very skeptical about an Iran deal are appalled by the spectacle of Members of Congress openly recruiting a foreign power to undermine the U.S. president.  A case in point: The front page of Tuesday’s New York Daily News – owned by Middle East hardliner Mort Zuckerman – is dominated by one word, “TRAITORS.” The accompanying editorial, which made clear the paper’s hostility to an Iran deal, stated that, “…47 Republican U.S. senators engaged in treachery by sending a letter to the mullahs aimed at cutting the legs out from under America’s commander-in-chief… They are an embarrassment to the Senate and to the nation.” 

Writing in the Washington Post 3/13, former top aide George W. Bush Michael Gerson went even further: 

This was a foreign policy maneuver, in the middle of a high-stakes negotiation, with all the gravity and deliberation of a blog posting. In timing, tone and substance, it raises questions about the Republican majority’s capacity to governIf Republican senators want to make the point that an Iran deal requires a treaty, they should make that case to the American people, not to the Iranians. Congress simply has no business conducting foreign policy with a foreign government, especially an adversarial one. Every Republican who pictures his or her feet up on the Resolute Desk should fear this precedent…”

Interestingly, it seems the letter may already be having an effect on internal Republican politics vis-à-vis the next presidential candidate.  On 3/13, Politico Caucus published an article headlined, “Iran-letter backlash spreads to early states.”  The article notes that, “One-third of Republican insiders believe that Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton and his GOP colleagues — including several potential presidential candidates — crossed the line when they published an open letter to Iranian leaders warning about a possible nuclear deal.”

Will the letter impact GOP efforts on Iran legislation?  One notable non-signer of the GOP47 letter is Corker (R-TN), who has been working hard in recent weeks to mobilize Democratic support for his new AIPAC-backed Iran legislation, S. 615.  As covered in detail in last week’s Round-Up, this bill, while purporting to be simply about oversight over an Iran deal, includes poison pill provisions that will kill a deal.   His goal, and the goal of AIPAC and other supporters of the bill, is to get enough Democratic support for the bill to ensure a veto-proof majority.   The GOP47 letter may well have made that much more difficult. It is worth noting that since the AIPAC conference – which brought thousands of activists to the Hill lobbying S. 615, only 3 additional senators have signed on as cosponsors; only one of those was a Democrat (Bennett, D-UT).  

Without question, the GOP47 letter will bolster the case of those who warn Democratic senators that notwithstanding the reasonable-sounding explanations of S. 615’s intent, any GOP initiative related to Iran negotiations or a deal should be met with great suspicion.  On 3/10 Kaine (D-VA), a key Democratic supporter of S. 615, took to the Senate floor to bemoan the fact that GOP partisan game-playing was undermining bipartisan support for the S. 615 (which he mischaracterized as supportive of diplomacy and an agreement); following him on the floor was King (I-ME), who sounded a very different note, commenting that during discussions over S. 615, “my concern was that some of our Members will not be able to resist the temptation to politicize and make a partisan issue--even this grave issue of war and peace, this grave issue that faces this country and the entire world--of the possibility of a regime such as that in Iran achieving nuclear weapons.”  He added that “…I want us to have that role [oversight over an agreement], but I want to be sure we can respond to that in a responsible way. Frankly, the actions of the last few days have shaken that confidence, because we have seen what appears to be an effort to gain political and partisan advantage from this gravest of national issues…”

Will the letter hurt Iran talks?  Iran nuclear talks have survived numerous threats from Congressional hawks thus far.  They survived efforts backed by AIPAC and the government of Israel to impose new sanctions (efforts that started with the onset of diplomacy and re-surged in recent weeks), as well as ongoing efforts to legislate a Congressional veto of any Iran deal and impose additional conditions on Iran as a requirement for U.S. implementation of a deal – all of which were documented exhaustively in previous issues of the Round-Up.  And they survived Netanyahu’s dramatics in Congress last week.  Iranian negotiators will likely see through this letter as well – as Iran’s foreign minister indicated he did earlier this week, when he dismissed the Senate GOP letter in a statement that showed a greater understanding of the U.S. constitution than the letter’s signers (for discussion of the error in the Senators’ letter, see here).

The same cannot be assumed about hardliners in the Iranian government – and it is to them that this letter is addressed. In effect, this letter is a political Hail Mary pass, aimed at goading into action Iranian hardliners who, like their U.S. counterparts, prefer continued confrontation over any deal between Iran and the West.  As Brookings’ Suzanne Maloney commented earlier this week, “… The most reliable opponent of a nuclear deal resides in Tehran, and it is entirely possible that the Republican letter has reinforced his aversion to compromise. Washington’s pundits may jeer, but I worry that Senator Cotton & co. may yet have the last laugh.” 

Encouragingly (at least for those who support diplomacy) on March 12 Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, appeared to downplay the Senators’ threat, noting, “According to international norms, governments are bound to their commitments and those rules cannot be breached with the change of governments.


4.  Members Weigh in Senate GOP47 letter

Below are statements on the letter from the Congressional Record and Member websites (a great deal of other comments have been made in the media, as well, but are not included here unless the member posted it on his/her own website).


Hoyer (D-MD) 3/11: “…The action taken by forty-seven Republican Senators in sending a letter to the leaders of Iran was ill-advised, inappropriate, and partisan, and it weakens America's position in the world while undermining critical negotiations…The ongoing partisanship that has, unfortunately, been injected into our foreign policy and onto issues of national security undermines the confidence of Americans and our allies in our nation's ability to lead effectively and bring some measure of stability to a complex, troubled international environment." (Also discussed it on MSNBC, here).


Boxer (D-CA) 3/9: “This is a brazen attempt by Senate Republicans to sabotage negotiations aimed at preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. This bizarre, inappropriate letter is a desperate ploy to scuttle a comprehensive agreement and the chance for a peaceful resolution, which is in the best interests of the United States, Israel and the world.”

Cassidy (R-LA) 3/9:  “…If the American people felt better about the president’s foreign policy, perhaps we would not have sent the letter. But if you look at polls and if you talk to Members of Congress, we’re not quite sure the president has a strategy on Syria, or with ISIL, or many other areas. So it’s a lack of confidence with the president that makes Congress step forward that say, ‘listen if this is a bad deal it will be revisited.’ So that’s also by the way, a statement to the president- that Congress wants to be engaged and we’re going to represent the views of the American people.  ... this is a civics lesson for Iran. I think that’s perfectly appropriate… Why is it wrong to tell somebody what our system of government is and that Congress is a coequal branch of government?”

Daines (R-MO) 3/9: Press release entitled “DAINES, 46 FELLOW SENATORS SEND LETTER TO IRANIAN LEADERS ON NUCLEAR NEGOTIATIONS” with the text of the letter, but no comment at all by the Senator…

Durbin (D-IL) 3/10: “…So here we are today--a letter sent by 47 Republican Senators. We have talked about the impact of that. Reflect for a moment on the impact of that letter on our allies who are sitting at the table in Geneva, our allies who joined us in imposing the strictest sanctions in history on Iran to force them into negotiation, our allies, sitting with Secretary Kerry and representatives of our government, who must look at this letter from 47 Republicans and say: Why are we wasting our time? What they are saying is no matter what we do--because no agreement has been announced--no matter what we do, the Republican Senate is going to reject it. That is what the letter says.    It goes on to say--and this is a little bit of chutzpah according to the New York Times. The Senators signing the letter go on to remind the Ayatollah, who is not term-limited, that they have 6-year terms and may be around for decades--decades--and basically say to the Iranians: Don't even waste your time thinking about negotiating. It is not a waste of time because the alternatives are absolutely horrifying. The alternative of a nuclear Iran would be a threat not only to the Nation of Israel and many other Middle Eastern States and countries beyond, in Europe and other places, but it would invite a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. The ending is totally unacceptable and unpredictable.  So is it worth negotiating? Is it worth trying to find a way to avoid a nuclear Iran? Of course it is. Should the negotiations fail--and they might.  I hope not because of this letter, but they might--then what do we face; bringing Iran to its knees with more sanctions? Whom will we call on for these sanctions? Whom will we turn to and say: Will you join us in a more strict sanctions regime? The very same allies who sat at this table and saw this letter from 47 Republican Senators saying to them: Don't waste your time; we have the last word when it comes to Iran…”

Durbin (D-IL) 3/9: “This is a cynical effort by Republican Senators to undermine sensitive international negotiations—it weakens America’s hand and highlights our political divisions to the rest of the world. Understand that if these negotiations fail, a military response to Iran developing their nuclear capability becomes more likely. These Republican Senators should think twice about whether their political stunt is worth the threat of another war in the Middle East.”

Feinstein (D-CA) 3/9: “I am appalled at the latest step of 47 Republicans to blow up a major effort by our country and the world powers to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the Iranian nuclear program. This is a highly inappropriate and unprecedented incursion into the president’s prerogative to conduct foreign affairs and is not befitting this chamber. This letter only serves one purpose—to destroy an ongoing negotiation to reach a diplomatic agreement in its closing days.”

Franken (D-MN) 3/9:  “The letter signed by Republican Senators to Iran's leaders seems to be a deliberate attempt to undermine our negotiators and sabotage sensitive diplomatic negotiations-negotiations aimed at preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.  This is terribly misguided. By undercutting negotiations, these Senators are making military action in response to Iran's nuclear program more likely."

Gardner (R-CA) 3/9:  “I want the leaders of Iran’s regime, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, to know that no deal with the United States will be considered permanent without the approval of the Congress. The American people, through their representatives in Congress, will reject any deal that does not completely eliminate the threat of a nuclear Iran.”

Graham (R-SC) 3/12: “To the Germans, our friends in Germany, the Foreign Minister of Germany said the letter empowered the Iranians. With all due respect to our German allies, that is the most ridiculous statement I think I have ever heard. Requiring a deal between the Iranians and involving congressional sanctions to come back to the Congress should not embolden anybody. I don't know if the deal you are negotiating goes to the Parliament--the Bundestag in Germany--but we do things a certain way. The efforts of the French and the Germans to discipline Putin, how well has that turned out? We have a group of nations trying to deal with the most thuggish regime in the world acting like the Keystone Kops, in my view.”

Kaine (D-VA) 3/10: “With respect to the Iranian nuclear negotiation, I share many of the concerns of my 47 colleagues who wrote the letter. I share many of the concerns of the Prime Minister that were shared in his speech last week. But I deeply believe we should not try to tank a deal, critique a deal, or undercut a deal before there is a deal because to the extent there are efforts to stand and say this is a bad deal before there is a deal, the message that is communicated to the American public and to the world is: We will never accept any deal. We are not interested in diplomacy. We are not interested in negotiation.”

Kelly (D-IL) 3/10:  “America’s national security is an issue that those of us trusted by the public to serve in Congress must take seriously.  In the midst of these critical negotiations with Iran that have important global security implications, Americans cannot afford to have leaders who seek to obstruct and undermine legitimate diplomatic efforts in order to score political points,” Kelly said. It’s disappointing that 47 U.S. Senators took the irresponsible step of sending a misguided letter to Iran in an attempt to scuttle negotiations rather than work with the White House.  It is particularly disappointing that my Senator Mark Kirk signed on to this letter.  In doing so he failed to display the party independence and policy thoughtfulness he'd promised when he said he'd work across the aisle on important matters like our national security.  This Administration and this Congress must be united in our commitment to ensuring that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon, and it takes Democrats and Republicans working together to make that happen.” 

Kirk (R-IL) 3/10: Perhaps recognizing the difficulty of defending having signed the Cotton letter, Kirk instead issued a statement entitled, “Kirk Statement on Cotton Letter Regarding Congress and Iran” –a statement that omits any mention of the letter but simply makes the case against lifting Iran sanctions.

Leahy (D-VT) 3/10: “…We have had Presidents I have agreed with--in fact, with every President there have been things I agreed with and with every President, Democratic or Republican, there have been things I have disagreed with. But one thing I have always done when there are such negotiations going on, I am willing to talk to the President privately, but I am not going to state my position, for or against, publicly. We can only have one person negotiating for the United States. Can you imagine if everybody who wanted to rush to the cable news shows to get on TV were to say, well, here is our negotiating position--and we are going to force the President to leave the negotiating table? What do you think those countries that joined us in imposing multilateral sanctions would do?  Many of those countries that joined us are doing so at great economic cost to themselves, but they responded--when President Obama went to each of them and asked: Will you join us in imposing sanctions, they agreed. That made the sanctions far more effective. If they think we are not serious, they are going to be very tempted to ask: Why should we join you in supporting sanctions in the future? If the United States were alone in supporting sanctions, no matter what those sanctions are, it would not create any real pressure on Iran…”

McCain (R-AZ) 3/12: “I signed that letter, and I believe it is a direct result of the President's statement that he would veto any role the U.S. Congress should play in the ratification or nonratification of a pending agreement. That is what triggered the letter from Senator Cotton, and that is why I stand by it… I am glad we wrote the letter to bring some certainty to the process. If the President of the United States negotiates a deal with Iran and that deal includes lifting the congressional sanctions and he does it without our input, he will change a balance of power that has existed for hundreds of years in this country…   The Iranians need to understand the following: If there is a deal between the P5+1 and they are telling you congressional sanctions will be lifted by signing the deal, that is not accurate. They won't be lifted unless we agree. I would vote to lift sanctions if I thought we had a good deal. I would vote against a bad deal because a bad deal will start a new arms race in the Middle East.” 

Murphy (D-CT) 3/9:  “This partisan letter from several of my colleagues is nothing more than another attempt by members of the Republican caucus to undermine ongoing negotiations and undercut the credibility of the American negotiators. Of course Congress will always have the authority to weigh in on any agreement the President signs with another nation, but to suggest that a future President would cancel a deal that hasn’t even been concluded yet unmasks the true intention of the letter's signers. Let's be honest - if we successfully convince Iran to abandon their nuclear weapons program in a verifiable way, no future President - Republican or Democrat - is going to walk away from that.”

Nelson (D-FL) 3/10:  “…when 47 Republican Senators signed a letter sent to the Ayatollah Khomeini, it was a letter that although supposedly instructive of the constitutional provisions of the separation of government in the United States, in effect, it was a letter to erode the negotiating position of the President of the United States and his administration in trying to reach an agreement to not have a nuclear weapon capability of building a bomb in Iran.   I think history will show the strength of American foreign policy has always been bipartisanship when it comes to the interests of America as we look out and have to defend ourselves against our enemies. Indeed, Iran with a nuclear bomb would be one of the gravest threats to our national security as well as to our allies. It saddens me that we have come to the point where we are so divided that nearly half of the Senators, on a partisan basis, in this great institution of the U.S. Senate, would in effect try to cut the legs from underneath the President and his administration in trying to reach an agreement to avert a nuclear bomb…”

Paul (R-KY) 3/11: Comments at Secretary Kerry during SFRC hearing “I signed the letter to Iran. But you know what? The message I was sending was to you. The message was to President Obama that we want you to obey the law. We -- we want you to understand the separation of powers. If this agreement in any way modifies legislative sanctions, it will have to be passed by Congress. That's why that I've supported Senator Corker's legislation that says exactly this. However, I've told Senator Corker privately, I think that's the law anyway, that this will have to be passed. You cannot undo legislation. So why do I sign this letter? I sign this letter because I sign it to an administration that doesn't listen, to an administration that, every turn, tries to go around Congress because you think you can't get your way. The president says, ‘Oh, the Congress won't do what I want, so I've got a pen, and I've got my phone. I'm going to do what I want.’  The letter was to you. The letter was to Iran, but it should've been CC'd to the White House, because the White House needs to understand that any agreement that removes or changes legislation will have to be passed by us…”

Perdue (R-GA) 3/9:  Defending signing the GOP47 letter without actually mentioning the letter, “We cannot accept a bad deal with Iran regarding its nuclear program. President Obama must work with Congress in making sure that Iran is never capable of obtaining a nuclear weapons capability.  Congress should have the opportunity to review any agreement reached with Iran to ensure the Obama Administration has not made any dangerous concessions throughout the process. It’s critical that the leaders of Iran are aware of Congress’ role, and I call on President Obama to responsibly work with Congress so that we can make sure Iran’s ambition for a nuclear weapon is quelled.”

Reid (D-NV) 3/11: “…talking about gimmicks, there have been a number of reports in the press in the last couple of days about how this unprecedented letter to the leaders of the Iranian regime originated. We know 47 Republican Senators signed it. There are news accounts reporting that this was intended as a big joke. A big joke? Others say Republicans say it was a political organizing exercise after being hammered so hard with their nonfunding of Homeland Security. Others say it was simply designed to sabotage negotiations. Pick whatever one of the three you want. Whatever the reason, one thing is clear: This is not a joke; this is not an organizing exercise; this is about Iran getting a nuclear weapon.   I am disappointed that so many of my Republican colleagues are destroying the long tradition of bipartisanship in defending Israel and stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. I am heartened that a few Republicans--seven to be exact--didn't sign the letter. That is nice. Seven out of 54 didn't sign the letter. Seven is certainly better than nothing.   As some of the seven Republican Senators have said, they agree with Democrats that this letter was not appropriate. We are witnessing a fundamental test of Republicans' ability to govern. They are treating nuclear negotiations as a chance to play games--political games. They are treating a human trafficking bill as a chance to play some of these games. This is not the time for games. Republicans' behavior on these issues is irresponsible and beneath the dignity of this institution. We can and should do better.”

Reid (D-NV) 3/9:  Reid, “…the judgment of my Republican colleagues seems to be clouded by their abhorrence of President Obama. Today Republican Senators actually sent a letter to the Iranian leadership aimed at sabotaging these negotiations.   Let's be very clear. Republicans are undermining our Commander in Chief while empowering the Ayatollahs. Just last week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was here in the Capitol decrying the evil intent of the Iranian leadership. Republicans at that speech, which took place down the hall from where we stand today, in the House Chamber, stood, applauded, stomped their feet, and yelled in support of what the Prime Minister of Israel had to say. Today those same Republicans are trying to negotiate with the very same leaders in Iran with whom Netanyahu said we shouldn't be negotiating. This simply doesn't make senseToday's unprecedented letter, originated by a U.S. Senator who took his oath of office 62 days ago, is a kind of pettiness that diminishes us as a country in the eyes of the world. The Republicans need to find a way to get over their animosity toward President Obama. I can only hope they do it sooner rather than later.”   

Sanders (I-VT) 3/9: “It appears that for most of my Republican colleagues in the Senate, a war in Afghanistan and a war in Iraq were not enough. They now apparently want a war in Iran as well. President Obama is working with the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China to try to negotiate a peaceful means to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. These negotiations must be allowed to continue and, hopefully, will succeed. It is an outrage that my Republican colleagues are trying to sabotage that effort. ”

Shaheen (D-NH) 3/10: “For more than half a century our foreign policy has been driven by the idea that partisan politics stops at the water’s edge and I was disappointed to see this bedrock principle of our democracy compromised yesterday. This letter represented an unprecedented and dangerous attempt to undermine sensitive negotiations that are designed to keep our country safe. I sincerely hope that this effort does not destroy attempts to reach a diplomatic agreement on Iran’s nuclear program as negotiations enter a critical period.”

Stabenow (D-MI) 3/10:  Recounting history of Senator Vandenberg, who famously coined the phrase, “politics stops at the water's edge”:  ''Senator Vandenberg was no model of bipartisanship himself. He was not at all what we would call a moderate in his time. He may be considered a moderate today, but at the time he was extremely partisan as a Republican, and he was very prominent. He disagreed with the President's policies relating to Japan, but he didn't send a letter to the Emperor of Japan undermining the foreign policy of the President of the United States. He disagreed with the President's policies relating to Germany, but he did not send a letter to the chancellor of the Third Reich expressing his disagreements with the President of the United States.   To be clear, one of the great things about America is that we can and should and must disagree with the President when we disagree with directions and policies. But when war hangs in the balance--and specifically when nuclear war hangs in the balance--should Members of the U.S. Senate be in a position of publicly undermining the President of the United States to our enemies? I do not believe Senator Vandenberg would have become pen pals with a group of extremists whose stated goal is ‘death to America.’  It is shocking, dangerous, and deeply troubling to me that 47 Members of this body decided to throw away 70 years of wisdom to stand on the side of the Ayatollahs and the most extreme voices in Iran.”


5.  Hearings

3/19: House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing entitled, “Negotiations with Iran: Blocking or Paving Tehran’s Path to Nuclear Weapons?”  Scheduled witnesses are Antony Blinken, Deputy Secretary of State; and Adam Szubin, Acting Under Secretary of the Treasure for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.

3/18: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa will hold a hearing entitled, “Does the President's FY 2016 Budget Request Address the Crises in the Middle East and North Africa?” Scheduled witnesses are Anne Patterson, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs; and Paige Alexander, Assistant USAID Administrator
for the Middle East.

3/18:  The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa and Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere will hold a joint subcommittee hearing entitled, “Iran and Hezbollah in the Western Hemisphere.”  Scheduled witnesses are Joseph Humire (Author); and Dardo López-Dolz (Former Vice Minister of Interior of Peru).  In his statement on the hearing, Chairman Duncan (R-SC) directly connected the hearing to Iran nuclear talks: “Given the impending deadline for nuclear negotiations over Iran’s illicit nuclear weapons program, I believe it is critical for the U.S. to re-examine Iran and Hezbollah’s activities in our own neighborhood…”

3/17:  The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing entitled, “The FY 2016 Budget Request: Assessing U.S. Foreign Assistance Effectiveness.” Scheduled witnesses are Alfonso Lenhardt, Acting USAID Administrator; and Dana Hyde, CEO of the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

3/11:  The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing entitled, “The President's Request for Authorization to Use Force Against ISIS: Military and Diplomatic Efforts.”  Witnesses were Secretary of State John Kerry (testimony);  Defense Secretary Ashton Carter (testimony) and Joints Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Martin Dempsey (no written testimony is available).  Video of the hearing is here.  Unsurprising (in light of current events) the hearing touched a great deal on Iran, Iran negotiations, the GOP47 letter, etc…  Press coverage:   Kerry in ‘disbelief’ after reading senators’ letter to Iran (Boston Globe, 3/11);  John Kerry in ‘utter disbelief’ over GOP letter to Iran (Politico 3/11); Watch Secretary of State John Kerry Get Heated With Sen. Marco Rubio Over Iran (National Journal 3/11); Kerry tells Republicans: you cannot modify Iran-U.S. nuclear deal (Reuters 3/11); Kerry teaches Rubio the basics about the Middle East (MSNBC 3/11); For Marco Rubio and 2016 Republicans, it all comes back to Iran (Washington Post 3/11)

3/10: The Senate Committee on Armed Services’ Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities received a closed briefing on Iran's military and intelligence activities and impact on regional security from Matthew Spence, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Middle East Policy, and Colonel Mark W. Visconi, USAF, Director of Regional Operations for the Deputy Director for Special Operations (J-37), Joint Staff, both of the Department of Defense; and an official from the intelligence community.


6. Members on the Record (on things other than Senate GOP47 Iran letter)

Wicker (R-MS) 3/12: Citing Netanyahu repeatedly to slam Iran negotiations and Obama’s veto threat, suggesting Obama’s main motivation is to establish a legacy, not U.S. interests

Cruz (R-TX) 3/11: “Obama Administration Cannot Defend A Deal That Will Lead To Iran Acquiring Nuclear Weapons” (interviewed on the "Hugh Hewitt Show")

Kaine (D-VA) 3/10: Asking the question, “Is the Senate capable of tackling challenging national security questions in a mature and responsible way?”  Noting the partisan nature of the Netanyahu invitation/speech to Congress, the McConnell effort to fast-track Iran legislation after the speech, and the GOP47 letter, Kaine commented, “All of these events over the last few weeks when taken together suggest the sad possibility of a Senate that will elevate partisan political division over careful and constructive deliberation, even on the most critical security issues that affect the security of our country and the world. I deeply believe that this body--the Senate and Congress generally--has to pull back from the brink of irresponsible and partisan action with respect to these critical security questions because the stakes are simply too high.”

Byrne (R-AL) 3/9: Long blog post on Iran, entitled, “US Must Stand With Israel.”