One of the striking aspects of the letter to Iran from Senate Republicans this week was the scale of the GOP support. The effort to undermine American foreign policy and sabotage international nuclear talks wasn't simply limited to a few fringe, right-wing figures known for their ridiculous antics.
On the contrary, though the letter may have originated with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), it ended up receiving the endorsement of 87% of the Senate GOP conference, including the entirety of the Senate Republican leadership, as well as some of the party's most vocal figures on matters of foreign policy, including Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.).
By last night, the longtime Arizona senator seemed to realize this may not have been wise. He told Fox News the letter may not have been "the best way" for his party to achieve its goals, adding that partisan divisions sometimes lead Republicans "to react maybe in not the most effective fashion."
As for why McCain put his name on the sabotage letter, the senator's explanation to Politico was not reassuring.
"I saw the letter, I saw that it looked reasonable to me and I signed it, that's all. I sign lots of letters."
OK, but that's clearly not an argument. I can imagine a U.S. senator being confronted with a lot of paperwork on a daily basis, much of which requires a signature, but it's not unreasonable to think a 28-year veteran of the Senate and the chairman of the Armed Services Committee might pause before signing a letter to Iranian officials, urging them not to work constructively on nuclear issues with the United States, our allies, and our negotiating partners.
Amanda Taub makes a persuasive case that McCain's explanation for his conduct arguably makes matters worse.
In many ways, McCain's decision to sign the letter is more disturbing if he thinks it was merely a minor act. It's one thing to decide to actively and publicly undermine the president's conduct of foreign affairs, not just in this treaty negotiation but potentially in all other future negotiations, with all other countries, who will now also be able to point to this same letter as evidence that the president cannot be trusted to negotiate agreements on behalf of the United States. But at least take that seriously. At least treat it as a weighty decision that carries significant, far-reaching consequences.
McCain complained on Fox News last night that there's a "total lack of trust" between the White House and GOP lawmakers.
Yeah, I wonder why that is.