The letter drafted by Senator Tom Cotton sets forth basic constitutional principles applicable to the executive agreement into which President Obama will enter with Iran. The letter continues to reverberate.
Speaking in Egypt on his way to work more on the deal, Secretary of State Kerry purported to take issue with the letter. Jay Solomon reports in today’s Wall Street Journal (the article is accessible here via Google):
Secretary of State John Kerry, a day ahead of new nuclear negotiations with Iran, stressed to Tehran’s leadership that President Barack Obama has the power to implement any agreement reached with the country, despite intense opposition from Republican lawmakers in Congress.
Iran’s most powerful political figure, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, expressed reservations this week about the White House’s ability to execute a deal after 47 Republican senators wrote in an open letter to Tehran that Congress ultimately will decide the fate of any deal.
Mr. Kerry said on Saturday in Egypt that these American lawmakers were “wrong.”
“It is almost inevitable it will raise questions in the minds of the folks with whom we’re negotiating as to whether or not they are negotiating with the executive department and the president, which is what the constitution says, or whether there are 535 members of Congress,” Mr. Kerry told reporters in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
“Let me make clear to Iran…that from our point of view, this letter is incorrect in its statements,” he added. “As far as we are concerned, the Congress has no ability to change an executive agreement.”
Kerry seeks to reassure Iran’s Supreme Leader that Obama can deliver the goods. He seems to think Iran’s Supreme Leader doubts it. I don’t think so, but who will explain to Iran’s Supreme Leader that our Supreme Leader possesses limited power to bind his successors absent the consent to terms by the United States Senate or implementation by Congress? Who will reassure the American people? As the howling suggests, that letter must have served a deep need.
JOHN adds: Note that Kerry used the same formulation as when he testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week that the letter was “wrong.” Actually, Kerry admitted before the Senate committee that the letter is correct, except that, as he told reporters today, “Congress has no ability to change an executive agreement.” That statement is technically true, but misleading. Since Congress is not the executive, it cannot literally “change an executive agreement.” What it can do is enact legislation that is inconsistent with the agreement, which has the same effect. For instance, Congress can impose new sanctions on Iran, even though President Obama may promise not to. And, of course, any future president (or Obama himself) can walk away from an executive agreement at will.