It probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a right-wing freshman just two months into his first term, decided he’d try to sabotage international diplomatic talks with Iran. He recruited 46 of his Senate Republican colleagues to write a condescending letter to officials in Tehran, effectively telling Iranians not to trust the United States, our allies, or our negotiating partners.
It’s not unusual for GOP lawmakers to pull some pretty offensive stunts, but this was qualitatively different than the usual Capitol Hill nonsense. The ferocity of the Democratic response was equally unusual.
[Vice President Biden], who prior to getting elected vice president served over three decades in the Senate, said he was deeply offended by the stance some of his former colleagues took. “The letter sent on March 9th by forty-seven Republican Senators to the Islamic Republic of Iran, expressly designed to undercut a sitting president in the midst of sensitive international negotiations, is beneath the dignity of an institution I revere,” he said in a statement late on Monday. […]He wrote, “This letter, in the guise of a constitutional lesson, ignores two centuries of precedent and threatens to undermine the ability of any future American president, whether Democrat or Republican, to negotiate with other nations on behalf of the United States.”“Honorable people can disagree over policy. But this is no way to make America safer or stronger,” he added.
The scale of the Republican fiasco grew more obvious as the day progressed. The GOP hoped to divide Democrats, but Cotton & Co. brought Dems closer together. Republicans hoped to push Iran away from the negotiating table, but they very likely helped the negotiations move closer to an agreement.
Making matters just a little worse, analyses were soon published suggesting the Republicans’ attempt at freelance foreign policy, which included factual errors, may have violated federal law and is arguably unconstitutional.
The editorial board of the Detroit Free Press had a doozy of a piece on the subject, calling the Republican letter a stunt that “disgraces America.” Though the paper said it’s “unlikely” the GOP letter “rises to the level of treason,” it “certainly betrays a deep misunderstanding of our governmental structure, and a profound and dismaying disrespect for the office of the presidency, as well as its incumbent occupant. To disagree with a sitting president is one thing, even if that disagreement is loud, even if it is raucous. A deliberate attempt to undermine a sitting president’s efforts to discharge his constitutional obligations is something else entirely.”
[T]he Republicans who dispatched this letter have done more than embarrass a president they dislike. They have also disgraced themselves and undermined the credibility of the nation whose constitution they took an oath to uphold.
Late yesterday, Cotton tweeted a copy of the letter in Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s native tongue, in case he needed “a translation.” Zarif, who speaks English, responded with a letter of his own that made the right-wing freshman look quite foolish.
Our pals at “All In with Chris Hayes” had a segment on the story last night that’s well worth your time.