This was the headline in the New York Daily News. Now, tabloid newspapers tend to be sensational as a matter of course, and ordinarily, I'd ignore it. But in this case, I'm not sure it's not accurate.
Congressional Republicans just get crazier and crazier, but some things are just so astonishing, it's still hard to imagine. This is one of them:
Forty-seven Republican senators signed an open letter to Iran's leaders warning that a potential nuclear deal won't outlast Barack Obama's presidency, hinting that Congress does not intend to honor it.
The letter, led by freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and first reported by Bloomberg View, comes at a highly sensitive time as the Obama administration is reportedly closing in on an agreement to lift economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for halting its nuclear program for as many as 15 years.
"It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system," the Republican senators wrote. "First, under our Constitution, while the president negotiates international agreements, Congress plays the significant role of ratifying them. In the case of a treaty, the Senate must ratify it by a two-thirds vote. ... Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement."
(The senators erred in their description of how treaties work. As Harvard professor Jack Goldsmith pointed out, the Senate does play a key role in voting on and consenting to a treaty, but it is the president who negotiates and formally "ratifies" it, as the Congressional Research Service has explained.) ...
The signatories to the letter include three potential Republican presidential candidates — Sens. Rand Paul (KY), Ted Cruz (TX) and Marco Rubio (FL) — and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY).
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) attacked the Republican letter as a "juvenile political attack" aimed at "undermining our commander in chief." Republicans, he said, "cannot accept the fact that this good man, Barack Obama, this man with the unusual name, was elected twice by overwhelming margins by the people of this country."
In Senate floor remarks, he said Democrats never contemplated sending a letter to Iraq's leaders highlighting their disagreements with President George W. Bush. ...
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), a close Obama ally, excoriated Republicans on Monday, calling the letter a "political stunt" that could lead to another Middle East war.
"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," he said in a statement. "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."
As Jack Goldsmith points out, these Republicans claim to be explaining the American political system to ignorant foreigners, but they apparently don't even understand it themselves, since they got it wrong in the letter.
But that's a minor - if humorous - point. Can you just imagine if the Democrats had sent a letter to Saddam Hussein in opposition to President Bush (either of them)? Can you imagine, at any time earlier in our history, if either one of our political parties had sent a letter to one of America's enemies, seeking to undermine our president?
That would seem just... unimaginable, wouldn't it? "Treason" is not too strong a word. Certainly, at any other time in our history, "treason" wouldn't just have been in tabloid headlines.
But these days, nothing the Republicans do is really surprising. Rather, everything they do seems to be crazier than the previous thing, and everyone in America has become so used to it that nothing really astonishes us anymore. But it should. It really should.
Vice-President Joe Biden, who has a long history in the Senate, issued a statement which seems to mirror my own sense of astonishment and outrage:
I served in the United States Senate for thirty-six years. I believe deeply in its traditions, in its value as an institution, and in its indispensable constitutional role in the conduct of our foreign policy. The letter sent on March 9th by forty-seven Republican Senators to the Islamic Republic of Iran, expressly designed to undercut a sitting President in the midst of sensitive international negotiations, is beneath the dignity of an institution I revere.
This letter, in the guise of a constitutional lesson, ignores two centuries of precedent and threatens to undermine the ability of any future American President, whether Democrat or Republican, to negotiate with other nations on behalf of the United States. Honorable people can disagree over policy. But this is no way to make America safer or stronger.
Around the world, America’s influence depends on its ability to honor its commitments. Some of these are made in international agreements approved by Congress. However, as the authors of this letter must know, the vast majority of our international commitments take effect without Congressional approval. And that will be the case should the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany reach an understanding with Iran. There are numerous similar cases. The recent U.S.-Russia framework to remove chemical weapons from Syria is only one recent example. Arrangements such as these are often what provide the protections that U.S. troops around the world rely on every day. They allow for the basing of our forces in places like Afghanistan. They help us disrupt the proliferation by sea of weapons of mass destruction. They are essential tools to the conduct of our foreign policy, and they ensure the continuity that enables the United States to maintain our credibility and global leadership even as Presidents and Congresses come and go.
Since the beginning of the Republic, Presidents have addressed sensitive and high-profile matters in negotiations that culminate in commitments, both binding and non-binding, that Congress does not approve. Under Presidents of both parties, such major shifts in American foreign policy as diplomatic recognition of the People’s Republic of China, the resolution of the Iran hostage crisis, and the conclusion of the Vietnam War were all conducted without Congressional approval.
In thirty-six years in the United States Senate, I cannot recall another instance in which Senators wrote directly to advise another country—much less a longtime foreign adversary— that the President does not have the constitutional authority to reach a meaningful understanding with them. This letter sends a highly misleading signal to friend and foe alike that that our Commander-in-Chief cannot deliver on America’s commitments—a message that is as false as it is dangerous.
The decision to undercut our President and circumvent our constitutional system offends me as a matter of principle. As a matter of policy, the letter and its authors have also offered no viable alternative to the diplomatic resolution with Iran that their letter seeks to undermine. ...
The author of this letter has been explicit that he is seeking to take any action that will end President Obama’s diplomatic negotiations with Iran. But to what end? If talks collapse because of Congressional intervention, the United States will be blamed, leaving us with the worst of all worlds. Iran’s nuclear program, currently frozen, would race forward again. We would lack the international unity necessary just to enforce existing sanctions, let alone put in place new ones. Without diplomacy or increased pressure, the need to resort to military force becomes much more likely—at a time when our forces are already engaged in the fight against ISIL.
America's system of government relies on the fact that losing an election is not the end of the world. There's always the next election, after all. In a democracy, you win some and you lose some.
This is still America. This was still my country, even when George W. Bush was president. This was still my country, even when he was appointed president by the five Republicans on our Supreme Court, rather than winning the election in 2000.
Through unnecessary war, through the invasion of a completely innocent country, through the torture of prisoners of war, through economic policies that gave us the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, America was still my country. We lost in 2000 and again - incredibly, to my mind - in 2008. But there was always another election coming up.
This is the way it's been in America for more than two centuries. This has been the understanding of both political parties, for their entire existence,... until now, with the election of our first black president.
Now, with the election of our first black president, the Republican Party has completely lost its mind. Today's Republican Party, formed by their notorious 'Southern strategy' of deliberately wooing white racists, has gone hysterically insane. Apparently, just the idea of a black man as President of the United States has broken their little minds.
Certainly, it has broken their commitment to our country and its institutions. From shouting "liar" on the floor of Congress during a State of the Union address to claiming that the president is actually African, not American; from agreeing, before that president had even taken office - and at a time of two wars, with our economy cratering around us - to do nothing, no matter what it might be, that the president might propose... to sending a letter to America's enemy, seeking to undermine our side in the negotiations; well, what's next? Really, what could possibly be next?
Sure, this is politics. But America has had more than two centuries of rough-and-tumble politics. It's often been nasty, but we've never seen anything like this before. We kept our domestic disputes at home. Our politicians, by and large, still valued America and still valued America's institutions. Certainly, those who didn't were marginalized on the fringe.
But today, in the Republican Party, the fringe is mainstream. Republicans have become so hysterical at the thought of a black man in the White House that they've completely lost their minds.
Barack Obama is a mainstream Democrat, which means he's a bit conservative for my tastes, not very eager to rock the boat, and much too willing to bend over backward trying to make his political enemies see reason. He's about as mild-mannered and reasonable as it's possible to be.
But he's black, and that's all that most Republicans can see. It's the one thing Barack Obama can't change, and it's the one thing that Republicans find unforgivable. Even after six years, they haven't gotten used to it. It's still driving them crazy - indeed, crazier and crazier as time goes on.