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Backfired: Lawmakers sour on Iran letter

A number of senators on both sides of the aisle are souring on the open letter 47 Republicans sent condemning the nuclear negotiations with Iran.
Republican Tom Cotton speaks after the results of the midterm elections in North Little Rock, Ark., Nov. 4, 2014. (Photo by Jacob Slaton/Reuters)
Republican Tom Cotton speaks after the results of the midterm elections in North Little Rock, Ark., Nov. 4, 2014.

A number of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are souring on the open letter 47 Senate Republicans sent condemning the nuclear negotiations with Iran. 

“It was ill-advised. It was sophomoric in many ways and I think it gave comfort to our enemies and pause to our allies,” Democratic Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer said on Wednesday’s "Morning Joe."

"We’re in the last throes of negotiations and 47 senators interject themselves into this in a totally inappropriate, unprecedented way," he said.

Hoyer joins a growing number of lawmakers who have spoken ill of the letter on both sides of the aisle. 

Many Republicans said they didn’t feel the letter was helpful.

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain said on Tuesday night he wasn’t sure it was the best way to handle the situation.

“Maybe that wasn’t the best way to do that, but I think the Iranians should know that the Congress of the United States has to play a role in whether an agreement of this magnitude,” he said of the letter.

Republican Sen. Bob Corker, chair of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee pushed back against the letter in an interview with The Daily Beast.

“I didn’t think it was going to further our efforts to get to a place where Congress would play the appropriate role that it should on Iran,” he said. “I did not think that the letter was something that was going to help get us to an outcome that we’re all seeking, and that is Congress playing that appropriate role.”

Arizona’s Sen. Jeff Flake echoed that sentiment. “I just didn’t feel that it was appropriate or productive at this point. These are tough enough negotiations as it stands, and introducing this kind of letter, I didn’t think would be helpful,” he said.

New York’s Rep. Peter King, a hawkish Republican, said Tuesday he didn’t “know if I would have signed the letter. I don't trust the president on this, quite frankly, though I don't know if I'd go public with it to a foreign government," he said.

Democrats were furious, arguing that it undermined the president and hurt the negotiations.

Michigan Democrat Sen. Debbie Stabenow said Senate Republicans’ letter on Iran was “deeply, deeply disturbing."

“What is deeply concerning is that 47 Republican members decided to play politics with this because they don’t like this president. He is our president. He was elected twice by a majority of people in this country. They may not like that, but it’s a fact," she added.

"The judgment of my Republican colleagues seems to be clouded by their abhorrence of President Obama," Senate Minority leader Harry Reid said. "It's unprecedented for one political party to directly intervene in an international negotiation with the sole goal of embarrassing the president of the United States."

“I think Republicans have made it harder for us to approach this in a careful and bipartisan way,” Virginia Democrat Sen. Tim Kaine said, according to The New York Times.

The letter’s champion, freshman Republican Sen. Tom Cotton, says he’s not undermining the president—he’s simply opposing Iran.

"Our goal is simple: to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," he wrote in a USA Today editorial. "I do not take my obligations as a senator lightly. Nor do those who are signatories to the letter. If the president won't share our role in the process with his negotiating partner, we won't hesitate to do it ourselves."

Not everyone who signed the letter however sees it as simply about Iran, though. 

"I signed the letter to Iran, but you know what, the message I was sending was to you," Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul told administration officials present Wednesday at a Senate hearing. "I signed it to an administration that doesn't listen, to an administration that at every turn tries to go around Congress because you think you that you cannot get your way."