This Associated Press story, headlined “Obama can do Iran nuclear deal even if Congress disapproves,” is getting a lot of attention:
The September vote on the Iran nuclear deal is billed as a titanic standoff between President Barack Obama and Congress. Yet even if U.S. lawmakers reject the agreement, it’s not game-over for the White House.
A congressional vote of disapproval would not prevent Obama from acting on his own to start putting the accord in place. …
Obama doesn’t need a congressional OK to give Iran most of the billions of dollars in relief from economic sanctions that it would get under the agreement, as long as Tehran honors its commitments to curb its nuclear program.
“A resolution to disapprove the Iran agreement may have substantial political reverberations, but limited practical impact,” says Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “It would not override President Obama’s authority to enter into the agreement.”
That is correct. The president has the constitutional authority to enter into an executive agreement. Which is where debate over the Iran deal began, with an open letter to Iran’s leaders that was signed by 47 Republican senators and posted on Senator Tom Cotton’s web site. The letter explained that the Iran agreement was not being submitted to the Senate for ratification as a treaty. Therefore, as a mere executive agreement, it could be canceled with a stroke of the pen by America’s next president:
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. A so-called congressional-executive agreement requires a majority vote in both the House and the Senate (which, because of procedural rules, effectively means a three-fifths vote in the Senate). Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement. …
What these two constitutional provisions mean is that we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei. The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.
Tom Cotton’s letter was viciously attacked by liberals, but what it said was obviously correct. Now, with majorities in both houses of Congress opposed to the deal, the Associated Press tells us it can still proceed as an executive agreement. Of course it can. And the next president, who will probably be a Republican, can revoke it; and this Congress, or a subsequent one, can pass legislation inconsistent with it. That’s what happens when you don’t have the votes to ratify a treaty.