The irrelevance of Congress

Omri Ceren writes to elucidate the unfolding process in the Iran deal brought to us by President Obama. Omni’s message explores the issue I noted yesterday here. This is important. Omni writes:

Lead negotiator Wendy Sherman confirmed for journalists yesterday that the Obama administration will, over the next few days, pursue a binding United Nations Security Council resolution (UNSCR) that will lift sanctions on Iran. The resolution was circulated yesterday by the U.S. and a leaked text is already online [1]. When asked how the move could be reconciled with the 60-day Congressional review period mandated by the Corker legislation, Sherman sarcastically responded that you can’t really say “well excuse me, the world, you should wait for the United States Congress” because there has to be some way for “the international community to speak.” [2]. She noted that at least the UNSCR would have a 90 day interim period before its mandatory obligations kick in.

The gambit undermines the Corker bill – to say nothing of American sovereignty – on multiple levels. On a policy level, the UNSCR on its own would compel American action even if Congress rejects the Iran deal. On a political level, the administration intends to take the UNSCR and go to lawmakers while they’re considering the deal and say ‘you can’t reject the agreement because it would put America in violation of international law.’

The pushback from the Hill yesterday was immediate and furious. Corker: “an affront to the American people… an affront to Congress and the House of Representatives” [3]. Cardin: “it would be better not to have action on the U.N. resolution” [4]. Cruz: “our Administration intended all along to circumvent this domestic review by moving the agreement to the UN Security Council before the mandatory 60-day review period ends” [5]. Kirk: “a breathtaking assault on American sovereignty and Congressional prerogative” [6]. McCarthy: “violates the spirit of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, which the President signed into law… inconceivable – yet sadly not surprising” [7].

The Washington Post article [by Karen DeYoung here covers some of those statements and has a bunch of background. The story will develop throughout the day and through the beginning of next week. It’s going to be particularly brutal given that the Corker legislation was created and passed to stop exactly this scenario.

Remember how we got here. The March 9 Cotton letter, signed by 47 Senators, declared that without Congressional buy-in any deal with Iran would not be binding on future presidents [8]. Iranian FM Zarif responded with a temper tantrum in which he revealed that the parties intended to fast-track an UNSCR that would make Congress irrelevant and tie the hands of future presidents: “I wish to enlighten the authors that if the next administration revokes any agreement with the stroke of a pen, as they boast, it will have simply committed a blatant violation of international law”[9]. That created a firestorm of criticism from the Hill [10]. Zarif doubled down from the stage at NYU: “within a few days after [an agreement] we will have a resolution in the security council … which will be mandatory for all member states, whether Senator Cotton likes it or not” [11].

And so Congress responded with the Corker legislation. 98 Senators and 400 Representatives passed the bill with the intention of preventing the Obama administration from immediately going to the U.N. after an agreement and making good on Zarif’s boast. President Obama signed the bill. Now the administration is doing exactly what the legislation was designed to prohibit.


NOTE: Noah Rothman has more here.