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“A Complete Lack Of Credibility On The Subject”: After Sabotage Letter, Cotton Wants US To ‘Speak With One Voice’

Congressional Republicans are unanimous in their opposition to the international nuclear agreement with Iran, but even among GOP lawmakers, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) stands out as unique. Arguably no American lawmaker has done more to undermine U.S. foreign policy than the right-wing freshman.

This week, as support for the diplomatic deal grows on Capitol Hill, opponents confronted the very real possibility that a Republican bill to derail the agreement may not even get the 60 votes it needs in the Senate to overcome a Democratic filibuster. This in turn led Cotton to issue a fascinating press statement (via Salon’s Simon Maloy).

“First, the president did an end-run around the Constitution by refusing to submit the Iran deal as a treaty requiring a two-thirds vote of the Senate for approval. Now Harry Reid wants to deny the American people a voice entirely by blocking an up-or-down vote on this terrible deal. […]

 “The Congress and the president should speak with one voice when it comes to dealing with the Iranians, but it seems that Harry Reid believes that only his and the president’s voices matter.”

Tom Cotton, in case anyone has forgotten, wrote a letter to Iranian officials in March, telling them not to trust U.S. officials, all in the hopes of sabotaging American foreign policy and derailing the international diplomatic talks. The Republican senator corralled 46 of his GOP Senate colleagues to join him in this dangerous stunt, which according to our allies, had the effect of helping Iran during delicate negotiations and embarrassing the United States.

Here’s a radical idea: maybe Tom Cotton should avoid lectures about the importance of Congress and the White House speaking “with one voice when it comes to dealing with the Iranians.” Unless the right-wing senator is deliberately trying to become a laughingstock, he should take a moment to acknowledge his lack of credibility on the subject.

As for Cotton’s affection for up-or-down votes, I’m tempted to ask the senator, “Are you new here?” The answer, as it turns out, is, “Yes” – the Arkansas Republican was only in the U.S. House for a year when he announced his Senate bid, and he’s only been in the upper chamber for seven months.

In other words, Cotton may not realize that his own GOP colleagues effectively created a new standard in the Senate, mandating that practically every bill of any consequence needs a minimum of 60 votes to advance. If Cotton disapproves, he can blame Mitch McConnell.

Of course, the Arkansan’s press release yesterday serves as a reminder of just how poorly the debate is going for the far-right. The Republican target in the Senate has always been 67 votes – in part because they saw 60 votes as a foregone conclusion. As of this week, however, even that goal is in doubt.

Cotton added yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) “is obstructing because he is scared.” Someone’s scared, but I don’t think it’s Harry Reid.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 26, 2015

August 27, 2015 Posted by | 47 Traitors, Iran Nuclear Agreement, Tom Cotton | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Hypocritical Folly Of Congress’ Capricious Interest In Foreign Policy”: Exclusively In The President’s Domain — Except When It Isn’t

Senate Republicans want to get involved in President Barack Obama’s nuclear negotiations with Iran, as they demonstrated when the vast majority of them signed Tom Cotton’s forceful letter. Senate Democrats want to get involved, too — including Ben Cardin, Robert Menendez, and Chuck Schumer, the likely successor to Harry Reid as Senate Democratic leader.

Congress has some legitimate prerogatives here. And the framework of the nuclear deal is risky, even by the United States’ reading. These senators are not wrong to demand oversight.

At the same time, a large contingent of these senators don’t really want a deal that could be realistically achieved by diplomatic means in the foreseeable future. Some want to condition meaningful sanctions relief on Iran becoming a “normal” country. But the reason we’re pushing to restrict and inspect Iran’s nuclear program in the first place is precisely because Iran is not a normal country.

But here’s the particularly striking thing: The GOP-controlled Senate demands some say in the Iran nuclear deal, but is content to allow Obama to wage war against ISIS in Iraq without a congressional vote, the second such unauthorized war of his presidency. And here, Congress’ prerogatives are unmistakable: The Constitution gives the legislative branch the power to declare war.

Forty-seven Republican senators signed a letter asserting that Congress must have a role in the Iranian negotiations. They’ve merely debated authorizing the ISIS war — after the bombing was well underway.

Congress has largely abdicated its clearest role in foreign policy, its voice on matters of war and peace. Half the Democrats in the Senate deferred to George W. Bush on Iraq. But at least he sought congressional approval for his wars. The last two Democratic presidents have gone to war without such approval, though at least congressional Republicans tried to restrain Bill Clinton. They have been derelict in this duty with Obama in the White House.

Republicans were willing to go all the way to the Supreme Court to defend the view that the president can’t decide when the Senate is in recess. Some Republicans sued Clinton over Kosovo. And now Republicans are clamoring to have final say over any deal with Iran. But there are few Republicans who seem to think it’s bad that Obama is bombing ISIS without congressional approval, except insofar as it involves working with Iran. (See newly declared presidential candidate Marco Rubio on this point.)

In fact, many lawmakers now argue that foreign policy is exclusively in the president’s domain — except when it isn’t.

A lot of these questions do really turn on the merits. If the Iran deal detracts from American national security, Republicans are right to try to subvert it. If the deal enhances national security, it’s a bad thing to undermine it. And it’s at least understandable that Republicans will be less angry about a president bombing jihadists who have killed Americans in gruesome fashion, even if there was no congressional vote.

But the process matters too — especially if you claim to be the party of constitutionally limited government. If presidents usurp the power to declare war, it is inevitable that not all of the wars of their choosing will be wise or just. And conservative critiques of the imperial presidency lose some of their force when coupled with arguments that the president is an emperor when it comes to going to war.

At minimum, some of the reasonable arguments made against executive power grabs begin to look like partisan posturing — which, in turn, makes it easier for presidents to successfully grab power. Why? Because some voters and opinion leaders will take the arguments against these executive actions less seriously.

That includes arguments against the Iran deal. While the final details will ultimately be the result of work done by the administration and our allies, the diplomatic process itself is a product of bipartisan policies pursued by two administrations.

Republicans would be more convincing in their arguments against Obama’s Iran framework if they demanded he come to Congress before using military force, not just when he is clearly trying to avoid the use of force.

 

By: W. Jamees Antle, III, The Week, April 17, 2015

April 18, 2015 Posted by | 47 Traitors, Congress, Foreign Policy | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Open Letters Without Envelopes Don’t Count”: The Worst Excuse Yet For The Senate Republicans’ Iran Letter

As last week progressed, and the scope of the fiasco surrounding the Senate Republicans’ letter to Iran became more obvious, many GOP officials on Capitol Hill furiously tried to think of excuses. The scramble was understandable: Republicans had tried to sabotage American foreign policy, and the stunt hadn’t gone well.

Over the course of three days, congressional Republicans came up with at least four different excuses, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) blaming a D.C.-area snowstorm the week before. None of the arguments was particularly persuasive.

But National Review’s Deroy Murdock yesterday presented the most amazing excuse yet: the 47 Senate Republicans shouldn’t be criticized for sending a letter to Iran since they didn’t literally, physically “send” anything.

Before U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) and 46 of his GOP colleagues are frog-marched to the gallows and hanged for treason, one vital point of confusion must be cleared up. Say what you will about the Republicans’ open letter “to the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” The Cotton/GOP letter regarding Tehran’s atom-bomb talks with Obama was not sent to the ayatollahs.

Had Cotton & Co. actually delivered their communique to Iran’s mullahs – perhaps via a Swiss diplomatic pouch or something even more cloak and dagger – their critics would be on less swampy ground in calling them “traitors,” as the New York Daily News screamed.

The National Review piece added that “the Cotton Club” – Tom Cotton and his 46 GOP cohorts – “did not send its letter anywhere.” Murdock added, “Cotton & Co. never even dropped an envelope in the mail.”

How do we know for sure this is an unpersuasive argument? Because Tom Cotton himself says so.

The National Review argument emphasizes the fact that the Republicans message was an “open letter,” published online. As such, if we parse the meaning of the word “send” in the most charitable way possible, then maybe the GOP senators didn’t actually communicate with Iranian officials, at least not directly, during sensitive international talks.

Indeed, the National Review piece said those who claim the Republicans “sent” a letter are guilty of spreading a “gross inaccuracy.”

Does the argument have merit? Actually, no, it doesn’t. Tom Cotton himself, presumably well positioned to speak on behalf of the “Cotton Club” given his role as ringleader, specifically said he and his Republican partners “sent a letter to Iranian leaders.”

Or put another way, if the Republicans involved in this ridiculous stunt themselves say they “sent” a letter, it’s not unreasonable to think the rest of us can make the same claim.

I can appreciate the creativity behind the defense. In fact, it almost brings me back to an undergraduate course on metaphysics – if someone publishes a letter but doesn’t send it, does it really reach its destination?

But this is the wrong way to resolve the fiasco. The letter was specifically addressed “to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Officials in Tehran noticed, read the message, and responded. The GOP signatories themselves acknowledge that they “sent” a letter intended to derail American foreign policy.

The right may find this embarrassing a week later, but arguing that open letters without envelopes don’t count is the wrong way to go.

On the contrary, the National Review piece arguably makes matters worse for its allies. Murdock wrote that if “Cotton & Co.” had “actually” sent a letter to Iran, the left would be more justified questioning the Republicans’ patriotism.

But according to Cotton, he and his colleagues did send a letter to Iran, which leads to a conclusion National Review may not like.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 17, 2015

March 23, 2015 Posted by | 47 Traitors, Iran, Tom Cotton | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Politician Failing A Test Of Self-Awareness”: Cotton Worries About US Interference In Foreign Negotiations

On the Senate floor yesterday afternoon, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) shared some striking concerns about U.S. foreign policy. He also offered a rather profound example of a politician failing a test of self-awareness.

Earlier in the day, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters that when it comes to the U.S. policy towards Israel, “We’re currently evaluating our approach.” The comments were important, but not surprising – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent antics were bound to carry some consequences.

But Cotton, the right-wing freshman in his second month in the Senate, called Psaki’s comments “worrisome“ – for a very specific reason.

“While Prime Minister Netanyahu won a decisive victory, he still has just started assembling a governing majority coalition. These kinds of quotes from Israel’s most important ally could very well startle some of the smaller parties and their leaders with whom Prime Minister Netanyahu is currently in negotiations.

“This raises the question, of course, if the administration intends to undermine Prime Minister Netanyahu’s efforts to assemble a coalition by suggesting a change to our longstanding policy of supporting Israel’s position with the United Nations.”

Hold on a second. Cotton is now concerned about U.S. officials “undermining” foreign officials “currently in negotiations”?

Seriously?

Not to put too fine a point on this, but it was literally just two weeks ago that Cotton took it upon himself to organize a letter to Iran from 47 Senate Republicans. The point of the correspondence, by Cotton’s own admission, was to target international diplomacy, undermine American foreign policy, and disrupt officials during their ongoing negotiations.

I’m going to assume the Arkansas Republican remembers this. It caused a bit of a stir.

And yet, there Cotton was yesterday, expressing concern that a State Department official, simply by stating a simple fact about U.S. foreign policy, might “startle” officials abroad. These officials are “currently in negotiations,” so the GOP senator apparently believes Americans should be cautious not to interfere.

The irony is simply breathtaking. The mind reels.

Update:  In his remarks on the Senate floor, Cotton added, “I fear mutual respect is of little concern to this administration. The president and all those senior officials around him should carefully consider the diplomatic and security consequences of their words.”

I mean, really. Is this intended as some kind of performance-art statement on the power of irony?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 20, 2015

March 21, 2015 Posted by | 47 Traitors, Foreign Policy, Tom Cotton | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Senate’s 47 Percent”: Many Republicans Seem To Believe Anything Is Permissible As Long As It’s Designed To Foil Obama

In September 2002, three Democratic congressmen visited Iraq in an effort to prevent a war they thought was a terrible idea.

Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) said very little there, explaining afterward that his sole purpose was to tell Iraqi officials that “if they want to prevent a war, they need to prevail upon Saddam Hussein to provide unrestricted, unfettered access to the weapons inspectors.”

On the other hand, former Rep. David Bonior (D-MI) and especially Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) were quite outspoken while on Iraqi soil. McDermott urged Americans to take Saddam’s promises on weapons inspections at “face value” and charged that President Bush was willing to “mislead the American people.”

Needless to say, supporters of Bush and his policies did not deal kindly with McDermott and Bonior. Writing at the time in the pro-war Weekly Standard, Stephen Hayes called them “The Baghdad Democrats” and said: “What apparently didn’t concern the congressmen was the damage their trip might do abroad to any U.S.-led effort to deal with Saddam.”

Perhaps it’s not surprising that Republicans are now reminding everyone of the trio’s journey. To defend the 47 Republican senators who signed a letter to “the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” they invoke the everybody-does-it argument: that interfering with a president conducting a negotiation is as American as apple pie.

The letter itself, written in strangely condescending language that a good civics teacher would never use, instructs the Iranians about our Constitution. Any deal reached by President Obama without congressional approval would be nothing more than an “executive agreement,” the senators said. It could be voided “with the stroke of a pen” by a future president, and “future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.” It was a blatant effort to blow up the negotiations.

In fact, it is utterly baffling that champions of this letter would even bring up McDermott and his colleagues. For one thing, many of the very same people who denounced the Democratic trio are now praising the letter. Hayes, for example, in an article posted last week headlined “A Contrived Controversy,” said the letter, offered by “patriotic senators,” was “a fact-based, substantive argument, in public, about a matter of critical importance to the national security of the United States.”

Let’s see: It’s patriotic if members of Congress contact a foreign leader to interfere with a president whose policies you don’t like, but outrageous for politicians to do a similar thing to undermine a president whose policies you support.

Which goes to the larger point: The three members of Congress went to Iraq on their own, without any support from their party’s leaders, and were actively taken to task even by opponents of Bush’s policies. At the time, I wrote a column highly critical of the visit that I didn’t enjoy writing because I respect the three men. I also noted that, in light of all the pressures to fall into line behind Bush, “anyone with the gumption to dissent these days deserves some kudos for courage.”

Nonetheless, I argued that just as the Vietnam anti-war movement was damaged by “the open identification of some in its ranks with America’s enemies,” so did the congressional visit set back the cause of those who, at the time, were trying to get Congress to pass a far more restrained war resolution.

By contrast, the 47 Republicans undercutting Obama included the Senate majority leader and the chairman of the Armed Services Committee and clearly speak for most of their party. Only seven Senate Republicans, to their credit, refused to sign, including Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Two stipulations: While I support Obama’s effort to reach an agreement with Iran, I also believe in a strong congressional role in setting foreign policy and embrace the freedom to dissent from a president’s choices on war, peace and diplomacy. And, yes, most of us have had moments of inconsistency when our beliefs about a substantive matter distorted our views on process issues.

But tossing off a letter to leaders of a foreign state plainly designed to sandbag a president in the middle of negotiations goes far beyond normal procedural disagreements. It makes Congress and the United States look foolish to the world. It weakens our standing with allies and adversaries alike. And, yes, many Republicans seem to believe anything is permissible as long as it’s designed to foil Obama.

This is far more damaging to us than what those three congressmen did in Baghdad.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 15, 2015

March 17, 2015 Posted by | 47 Traitors, Congress, Foreign Policy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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