Bo Statham: Maybe Republican senators don’t understand Constitution

“It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system.” Thus wrote 47 Republican senators on March 9, to the “Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Excuse me: It has come to this writer’s attention it’s those distinguished members of the United States Senate who may not fully understand our constitutional system.

Authored by newly-elected Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, the letter is similar in its transgressions to the earlier invitation of House Speaker Republican John Boehner, to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress on the nuclear negotiations (see my column of March 5). Together, they may hold serious consequences for our nation, the Middle East and the political fortunes of Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader, and Mr. Boehner.

Mr. Cotton has a distinguished record as a graduate of Harvard University and the Harvard Law School and as an Army Ranger in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, his untimely, patronizing, blatantly incorrect and bullying letter overshadows his earlier curriculum vitae.

The letter incorrectly states the Senate’s role in the adoption of proposed treaties, confuses the negotiations with statutorily created congressional-executive agreements and concludes any such agreement not approved by Congress “is a mere executive agreement” that could be revoked by the next president or modified by a future congress. Mr. Cotton grossly overstates congressional control of executive actions. In the exercise of executive powers granted by the Constitution, independent of Congress, every president has conducted foreign affairs and entered appropriate agreements not subject to the mere whim of future presidents and congresses.

The letter ignores the fact the United States is not acting alone in these negotiations. It’s joined by England, France, China and Russia, the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, and Germany, in the efforts to control Iran’s development of nuclear power. A positive conclusion of negotiations will not simply be an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei, as Mr. Cotton wrongfully states.

Iran agreed to cease uranium enrichment, during the negotiations, to a level necessary to create a nuclear weapon and has complied with its independent monitoring obligations. The objective is to conclude an agreement of that nature, and the U. S. commitment will remain Iran will never have a nuclear weapon.

Mr. Cotton may be forgiven his brash action because of his legislative inexperience, but Majority Leader McConnell definitely certainly may not be. Without his early support, it’s probable many of the other signers would have given the letter more careful consideration; a number of them have now acknowledged the letter was not the best way to proceed. But Mr. McConnell is the Republican leader, and his lack of leadership raises serious questions of his party’s ability to govern.

Mr. Cotton acknowledges his objective is to scuttle the negotiations. If he’s successful, Iran is certainly going to resume its nuclear development with no outside inspection. That may well set off a Middle East arms race, with Egypt and Saudi Arabia joining the fray.

The perfect storm may have been completed by Mr. Netanyahu’s victory in Tuesday’s election. If he’s successful in forming a coalition government, he’s then in a position to continue his decade-old push for potentially disastrous military action against Iran.

Bo Statham is a retired lawyer, congressional aid and businessman. he livs in Gardnerville and can be reached at


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