The first appropriations bill taken up this year by the Senate -- in what was supposed to a be a new spirit of bipartisan cooperation on financing the government -- crashed and burned on Wednesday because of a dispute over an amendment that Democrats and White House officials said would undermine President Obama's nuclear accord with Iran. The amendment, offered by Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, would bar the United States from purchasing heavy water -- which is used in producing nuclear energy and nuclear weapons -- from Iran. Under Mr. Obama's nuclear accord, Iran must reduce its supplies of heavy water.
During his brief tenure in Congress, Sen. Tom Cotton's (R-Ark.) most notable contribution has been an ignominious one. During the international nuclear negotiations with Iran, the right-wing Arkansan wrote a letter to Iranian officials, telling them not to trust the United States. It wasn't subtle: Cotton and his Republican allies tried to sabotage their own country's foreign policy during delicate diplomatic negotiations.
Cotton's gambit, we now know, failed, but yesterday we were reminded that the policy remains very much on the senator's mind. The New York Times reported:
The spending bill was supposed to pass with relative ease, but Cotton decided he wanted to add his amendment first. The problem, of course, is if the bill includes a measure preventing the United States from purchasing heavy water from Iran, the White House will veto it.
And why does the United States want to buy heavy water created through Iran's nuclear program? Because the alternative is allowing the water to go onto the open market, which the administration sees as a potential security threat.
But even more interesting still was the nature of the argument that followed between the White House and Cotton.
Press Secretary John Earnest, unable to contain his irritation, told reporters yesterday, "[I]t is clear what the intent of his amendment is. Senator Cotton is certainly no expert when it comes to heavy water. I'm confident that he couldn't differentiate heavy water from sparkling water. His focus is on undermining the effective implementation of this agreement that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."
In response, the Republican senator told Earnest via Twitter, "[Y]ou're right, I don't know much about sparkling water. It isn't served in Army, unlike in your ritzy West Wing."
For the record, Cotton's effort to present himself as some kind of victim of elitism is bizarre. The GOP lawmaker is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and he's currently a member of the U.S. Senate. I'm reasonably sure he knows what "sparkling water" is.
What's more, the West Wing may be "ritzy," but so too is the Senate Dining Room -- where "Raspberry Fizz" is on the menu for $3.