(Washington, DC — March 16, 2015) – “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
So said Senate candidate Abraham Lincoln on June 16, 1858. The reference was to America being divided as half-slave and half-free. Less than three years later, the country split in two and went to war to decide that very notion.
Almost 157 years later, the United States seems again to be divided against itself, but this time the division lies between two branches of the Federal government – the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch.
At issue: a letter signed by 47 Republican Senators and sent directly to the government of Iran. This hurriedly-prepared letter – drafted by Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) and signed before a hasty departure ahead of a major snowstorm – has given the impression to countries around the world that Washington is now, to paraphrase Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Governments.
“The letter is, at best, inappropriate,” said a historian, speaking on condition of anonymity. “In the middle, it’s an attempt to embarrass the President of the United States. At its worst, it’s treason.”
Some see the letter as a violation of the 1799 Logan Act, which forbids unauthorized citizens from negotiating with foreign governments. While they 47 Senators may feel entitled, they are, in fact, unauthorized to negotiate with foreign governments.
Senate Republicans, led by their Tea Partyist faction, which is determined to undermine any initiative supported by or proposed by President Obama (D-IL/Kenya), sent the letter to Iranian officials to offer their wisdom regarding the ongoing negotiations about Iran’s nuclear program. The negotiations, which have been conducted for over a year, are nearing their conclusion – they will either succeed or fail in the next few weeks – seem to be leaning towards allowing Iran to maintain some sort of nuclear program.
This is unacceptable to many.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) fired the first shot, violating 238 years of diplomatic protocol by inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – without first notifying the White House – to deliver a March 3 address Congress.
The letter sent by the 47 Senators is perhaps even more damaging to America’s government and standing in the world, declaring that Congress has the power to undo any agreement signed by Iran as soon as a new president assumes office in January 2017 – which is false.
While there are three equal co-branches of government – the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary – the Executive Branch has traditionally handled foreign affairs. This does not include the ratification of treaties, which is the responsibility of the Legislative Branch according to the Constitution:
- Article II, Section 2. “[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 …”
“Dealing with Iran is not making a treaty,” said another historian, speaking on condition of anonymity. “There’s only one reason the letter was sent: to show that the current White House – and, by extension, the current President of the United States – is illegitimate.”
“This is the new low in Washington,” said a political scientist, speaking on condition of anonymity. “This is the new tit-for-tat being played by the White House and Congress. Congress should have acted on immigration reform; it didn’t, so the White House acted. Now Congress is getting even by sticking its nose into White House business. Average, ordinary, everyday Americans should expect to see lots more of this for the next two years.”
Perhaps the biggest irony of this episode is the number of Senate signatories: 47. Out of 100 Senators, this means 47% of the Senate signed the letter. And Republicans should know a thing or two about this number.
In 2012, a “secretly” taped presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA) stated, in essence, that he didn’t care about 47% of the country because they weren’t going to vote for him, anyway. 1 Many feel that this gaffe ultimately doomed Romney’s chances in November 2012.
“Some people ignore history,” said a political scientist, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Some people are ignorant of history. And yet others are just plain ignorant. I’ll let the readers decide which is the case this time around.”
The proud 47% of the Senate are:
1. Romney to 47%: “Drop Dead!” Comments Made at Fundraiser Show Utter Disdain for Half of America. FLATLINE 2012 Sep-Oct;14(9-10):e10.