WASHINGTON – When doing diplomacy with Iran, this country’s sworn, slippery and lethal enemy of 36 years, maybe it would have been better to stick with the U.S. Constitution.
Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 says the president “shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur …”
Somehow, President Obama – relying on the wisdom of Secretary of State John Kerry and presidential aides Susan Rice and Valerie Jarrett – decided not to frame a real treaty and instead use the ill-defined “executive agreement” device as a substitute.
All that’s at stake is whether Iran is prevented by the Great Powers, including Russia, France, Great Britain and us, from becoming a member of the nuclear club, equipped to take out Israel and maybe Egypt with two missiles.
In a word, the “executive agreement” is supposed to guarantee peace in our time. Not only is the arrangement private, according to the White House, but it is none of the business of Congress.
So 47 Republican members of the Senate sent an open letter to the dictators of Iran telling them and the world that whatever is agreed by the Great Powers may be null and void on Jan. 21, 2017, the end of the Obama presidency.
And Democrats, with notable exceptions, have accused the Republican senators of treason, and of being in violation of the 18th century Logan Act, a felony. But it won’t be a factor, because Democrats ranging from the late Sen. Ted Kennedy to former President Jimmy Carter to Kerry himself have interfered with American diplomacy.
There are two leading Senate Democrats who are not currently strumming the Democrats’ Logan Act Blues. One is Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the lead Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who is questioning Obama’s proposal to make war on the Islamic State because it may be “open-ended” and never-ending. Menendez’s opposition to Obama’s tactics on Iran was concurrent with administration leaks that the senator may be indicted for doing favors for a campaign donor.
The other is, notably, New York’s Charles E. Schumer, the party’s third-ranking Senate leader. Schumer’s office confirmed that he will support legislation calling for intensive congressional review of whatever Kerry’s team produces on Iran.
According to the blog Jewish Voice, Schumer will support a bill co-sponsored by Menendez and Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn. The bill requires Obama to submit to Congress the text of the agreement within five days of completion, to keep sanctions on Iran in place while the agreement is assessed by Congress, a verification assessment of Iran’s compliance, certification that Iran won’t build a nuclear bomb and other provisions.
The White House maintains it will veto Corker-Menendez if it passes. Schumer wouldn’t comment on whether he would support a Senate effort to override the veto. Still, Schumer’s endorsement is a very gutsy and principled action.
Wire services reported Friday that instead of submitting the proposed Iran accords to Congress, Obama may ask the United Nations to approve parts of the agreement.
Senate approval has been required on all major multilateral treaties such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the World Trade Agreement. “Executive agreements” such as the one being pursued by Kerry have been rarely employed by American presidents on such broad international deals. But congressional assent is almost always required, according to published case law.
So what Schumer wants then is congressional approval by majority vote – the bare minimum needed for such a grave move. On the other side, we have the president’s promise he will walk away from a bad deal.