Secretary of State John Kerry isn’t sorry.
Asked if he’d take responsibility for the letter Arkansas’ Sen. Tom Cotton wrote to Iran opposing the nuclear deal the country and the U.S. are trying to negotiate, Kerry said “not on your life.”
“I’m not going to apologize for the unconstitutional, un-thought-out action by somebody who’s been in the United States Senate for 60-something days,” Kerry said on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” pointed at Cotton. “That’s just inappropriate.”
Cotton, 37, took office in early January and is already seen as a rising Republican star. He is leading GOP opposition against a nuclear disarmament deal with Iran, arguing that it doesn’t go far enough to curb Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon. The White House says the deal hasn’t even been struck and Republicans’ opposition is partisan politicking. And in the wake of the letter, many Republicans – including some of the 47 signatories– soured on the move. Even Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain said last week: “Maybe that wasn’t the best way the do that …” Though he later said he “stands by” his decision to sign the letter.
Kerry, who spent nearly three decades in the Senate and chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before being appointed to be Secretary of State, condemned the letter as “false information” and said it was “absolutely calculated directly to interfere with these negotiations.”
“It specifically inserts itself directly to the leader of another country saying, ‘Don’t negotiate with these guys because we’re going to change this,’ which by the way, is not only contrary to the Constitution with respect to the executive’s right to negotiate, but it is incorrect because they cannot change an executive agreement,” Kerry said.
That sentiment was reiterated on Saturday night, when White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough penned a letter to Republican Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, pushing back against legislation Republicans are advancing in the Senate to institute even harsher sanctions against Iran and reiterating the threat that the White House will veto such a bill.
“Put simply, it would potentially make it impossible to secure international cooperation for additional sanctions, while putting at risk the existing multilateral sanctions regime,” McDonough wrote in a letter posted by The Huffington Post that appears to try and regain the political upper hand on negotiations ahead of the late-March deadline for negotiations.
But Republicans aren’t backing down.
Corker responded to Kerry’s letter late Sunday, saying simply “I believe it is very important that Congress appropriately weigh in before any final agreement is implemented.”
Meanwhile, Cotton appeared on Sunday morning’s “Face the Nation” to say he has “no regrets at all.”
“If the President and Secretary of State were intent on driving a hard bargain, they’d point to the letter and say they’re right, any deal has to be approved by Congress,” Cotton said, arguing that once the president leaves office any deal he strikes that is not approved by Congress could be reversed by another president.
“Are you planning to contact any other of our adversaries?” host Bob Schieffer asked. “Do you plan to check with the North Koreans to make sure they know any deal has to be approved by the Congress?”
Cotton deflected, noting he was focused on the deal with Iran but later mentioned that a U.S. deal with Korea had failed to keep the country from developing nuclear weapons in the past, as if to suggest that that meant the current U.S. deal could fail, too.
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell said Sunday that this was a ”manufactured controversy.”
“The President is about to make what we believe is a very bad deal. He clearly doesn’t want Congress involved at all. And we’re worried about it,” McConnell said on CNN. “The president would like to keep us out of it. We know that.”
“All of this is a distraction away from the point here,” McConnell added.