Why the letter to Iran won’t end well for Republicans

March 11, 2015
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu addresses a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) addresses a joint meeting of Congress ion Capitol Hill in Washington, March 3, 2015. House Speaker John Boehner (L) (R-Ohio) and President pro tempore of the Senate Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) applaud Netanyahu. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

What happens when senators and congressmen go around a controversial president to communicate directly with the enemy? They undermine the stability of their own party — and the integrity of the nation.

That’s what happened to the Federalists, the glorious political party of George Washington, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton. Could the same thing happen to today’s Republican Party?

On Monday, 47 Republican senators wrote Iran’s leaders to inform them that the president of the United States is not to be trusted. Anything President Barack Obama promises, they explained, can be undone the moment he is out and their candidate is in.

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‘Alexander Hamilton’s First Meeting with George Washington’ by Alonzo Chappel, 1856. Credit: The National Heritage Museum

Organized by freshman Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), the Republican Party’s broadside is not a precise parallel to Federalist sedition during the War of 1812. But it’s close.

The American people never forgave the Federalist Party for flirting with treason during that war. Today, Cotton and other Republicans court similar disgust with their disloyalty toward the nation’s sitting president.

The Federalist Party of George Washington and the Democratic-Republican Party of Thomas Jefferson had been at each other’s throats for two decades. Partisan passions rose so high that Adams was burned in effigy while he was president. A few years later, Vice President Aaron Burr shot and killed Hamilton, leader of the Federalists and a perennial opponent.

As John Marshall, the most illustrious chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, who held the post from 1801 to 1835, argued (and was later quoted in the United States v. Curtiss-Wright): “The president is the sole organ of the nation in its external relations, and its sole representative with foreign nations.”

Partisan restraint began to crumble during the early years of the republic, however. During the 22-year conflict between the European great powers — an era marked by the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars — Washington and Adams’s party advocated closer ties with Britain. Jefferson and James Madison’s party, the Democratic-Republicans, strongly preferred France.

The Federalists handed the Oval Office to the Democratic-Republicans in 1800, in modern history’s first democratic transfer of executive power from one party to another. But the opposition savagely attacked Jefferson once he entered the White House. The author of the Declaration of Independence received death threats over his foreign policy.

“You infernal villain,” one man wrote from Boston after Jefferson declared a foreign embargo. Another cautioned, “you will be shott . . . you are one of the greatest tirants in the whole world. You are wurs than Bonaparte.”

JamesMadison - better!

James Madison. Portrait by Gilbert Stuart, 1821. WIKIPEDIA/Commons

Passions escalated further after President Madison asked Congress for a declaration of war against Britain in 1812. Two years into the unpopular conflict, some Federalists were proposing secession from the Union.

New England bankers lent more money to George III than to Madison. The federal government trembled on the edge of bankruptcy. Connecticut and Massachusetts withheld the services of their state militias. Governor Caleb Strong of Massachusetts sent a secret emissary to Britain to broker a separate peace with the enemy.

And then things really got rough.

In 1814, 26 delegates from five New England states traveled to a closed meeting in Hartford, Connecticut. The so-called Hartford Convention drew up a list of demands. Their ultimatums were not as important as the implied threat behind them. New England might secede if Madison didn’t come to heel.

The convention appointed three “ambassadors” to present their terms to Madison — as if they were representatives of already separate nations. As if persons other than the U.S. president were empowered to appoint ambassadors and direct foreign relations.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other members of the House Republican leadership invited the head of a foreign nation to address them. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Mar. 3 speech violated the protocol spelled out in the U.S. Constitution, as I wrote last week. The founding fathers specified that it is the president’s unique responsibility to “receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers.” Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu breached the nation’s basic law.

Cotton’s open letter to Iran also violates the spirit of the Constitution. Whether he and other senators are actually breaking the law is more debatable. Though the Logan Act of 1799 suggests they are:

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

It is unlikely, however, that the nation’s chief law enforcer can stop them or even will try. Congress has previously expressed itself to foreign governments against a president’s wishes, such as when 88 members of the House of Representatives sent a cable in 1920 to Prime Minister David Lloyd George protesting British policy toward Ireland.

Republican Tom Cotton speaks after the results of the midterm elections in North Little Rock, Arkansas

Republican Tom Cotton speaks after the midterm elections in North Little Rock, Arkansas, November 4, 2014. REUTERS/Jacob Slaton

But Congress has perhaps never so openly disrespected the president on a foreign stage as now. Or intervened more actively to disrupt an international negotiation.

Like the Federalists of 1814, today’s Republican leaders are wading into deep, swift waters.

Whatever happened to the Federalist Party? When Madison’s negotiators forged a peace treaty with Britain, and General Andrew Jackson defeated British troops in the epic Battle of New Orleans a week later, delegates to the Hartford Convention looked like fools and traitors.

The nation’s first political party died swiftly. Reviled by the patriotic electorate, the Federalists never again won the Oval Office. The United States had a one-party system for the next two decades, until the Whig Party arose in 1833.

Modern Republicans have a much longer history than the Federalists. Cotton’s party is made of a sturdier fabric than the party of Washington.

But the junior senator from Arkansas ought to beware. The American people have never cottoned to treason — or the implication of it.

39 comments

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When the Media have given the President such a free reign, what else can people do. They have to reach out to the elected officials. We have a dictator in WH and he is running the show for not Americans but for the best interest of others nations. When Media sits tight and never question the President actions, this is what happens. Revolt. President office cannot force respect. Respect is earned. By the way the Author of this article does look like he i a close confidant of the President as are many left leaning Media.

Posted by jacobmathews29 | Report as abusive

An alternative viewpoint is that the Senators were merely giving fair warning that an executive agreement entered into without the supermajority concensus of the Senate is a very tenuous and momentary thing.

“The President… shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur….”
U.S. Constitution ARTICLE II, SECTION 2, CLAUSE 2

Posted by ltcrunch | Report as abusive

“One Nation, under God, indivisible..”

Convict these traitors under the Logan Act, ship them off to Utah’s new firing squad executioners and let God sort them out at the Pearly Gates. They deserve to die and burn in hell for eternity with the rest of their Teajadist Brethren. Seriously.

Every day in the US the news gets more disgusting. We are the laughingstock of an obviously more mature and better educated international diplomatic community. The ignorance of these senators is breathtaking. With approval ratings hovering around 10%, why not just take them out of the food chain? Give America a fresh chance for decency and leadership by intelligent adults. These 47 Traitors totally fail.

Posted by BlackHawk1838 | Report as abusive

ltcrunch,

Advise & Consent is normally not acted on until years later as in the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, that there may not have even been a vote yet.

To have a vote on any treaty with Iran without having years of verification would be stupid of any legislature, and to be against any treaty having positive verification would also be stupid.

This letter was only meant to sabotage the negotiations just as the hardliners in Iran want.

These 47 are siding with the hardliners in Iran, and are participating in an act of treason.

Posted by Flash1022 | Report as abusive

No habitual liars can’t be trusted as spokesmen, so no matter where we stand, perilous times shall come.

Posted by T.L. | Report as abusive

The party that frequently preaches “personal responsibility” for others often celebrates politicians that practice a complete lack of responsibility to their office, but that just increases the voter turnout from their “base.”

Posted by QuietThinker | Report as abusive

This is the same GOP that was issuing death threats to the Dixie Chicks for criticizing the President. Now 47 republican Senators are talking with enemy leaders to try and subvert American negotiations?

Treason. Hang them all.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

This article is a very well written indisputable logical argument. The simple fact is that the Republicans have frivolously diminished the Office of The President, completely disrespected our form of government and made themselves fools in the eyes of the world with one stupid act. What is astonishing is that 47 naive fools posing as US Senators penned their name to the document. They make the US Government a laughing stock and elevate the Iranian Foreign Minister’s response to the level of Thomas Jefferson. How can this do anything but validate Iran’s Government while diminishing the US?

Posted by runnerbob | Report as abusive

The same republican party that wasted 2 trillion taxpayer dollars and 4,000 U.S. service lives in Iraq…. so that ISIS would have a new home…..

Has got some really special ideas about Iran. So special.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

Isn’t anybody in the Republican party thinking here? What can or might be undone by the Republicans can also be done by the Democrats next time.

Even worse you basically pushed the Iranians in to the position to scrap any negotiations with either party / American government since neither can be trusted to keep their promises.

Posted by cynical175 | Report as abusive

Amazing and truly unheard of in any democratic country. Pacta sunt servanda!
Anyway – just imagine the media outcry if Democratic Senators had sent such a letter while Bush junior or senior to say Iraq at the time while they were presidents. These Senators would had been called “unpatriotic” to say the least.

Posted by cjbenedikt | Report as abusive

It’s wonderful that the Republican Party and the Hardliners in Iran both share so much common ground.

Posted by JulsMan | Report as abusive

So this is their foreign policy? Sabotage, threats, and lies? I wonder if the GOP does this for _all_ foreign policy discussions. Perhaps they should all go work for the state department instead.

Posted by pyradius | Report as abusive

I personally find our U.S. administration’s negotiations with terrorists such as Iran treasonous, but would stand down on my objections if Congress is fully participating. Even the Obama administration admits Iran’s administration runs state funded terrorist initiatives at home and across the globe, and, that the U.S. doesn’t negotiate with terrorists. These contradictions in Obama’s speech and behavior are troubling. It’s also obvious Kerry had not informed Iran of our U.S. laws (confirmed by the Iranian leader’s response to the letter which was published in Reuter’s two days ago).

I support the Senators’ assessment that treaty ground rules needed to be made transparent to all parties, including a full review of them with Kerry based on Kerry’s wishful, but uninformed response to a Congressional committee today. Thank goodness we have a 3-body government system so that one group (Congress, in this case) can oversee another group (the administration in this case) when they’re in trouble. Didn’t anyone else learn that when you’re in a dangerous situation you want more, not fewer, people in your row boat pulling on the oars?

Posted by hometown | Report as abusive

More adventures in republican ball-dropping.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

Hometown complains: “These contradictions in Obama’s speech and behavior are troubling.”

Yes. Stating repeatedly in his 2012 campaign that he plans to open negotiations with Iran; and then winning the election (332 electoral votes to Romney’s 206); and then opening negotions with Iran.

So confusing, you poor thing. This must be a difficult time for you. We’ll get started on that hurt feelings report.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/0 7/us-usa-campaign-iran-opportunity-idUSB RE8A61P920121107

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

Boehner violated the Constitution by deliberately inviting a foreign head of state which is the President’s sole privilege. In fact, Boehner was actually overheard saying “Don’t tell the President.” But that letter to an enemy nation discrediting the US President really takes the cake. The Supreme Court may conclude that this was an act of treason committed, among others, by Mr. MacCain who wanted to be President himself at one time.

Whatever happened to the Republicans? They used to be so patriotic at one time. A person loving this country just can’t vote for them any more.

Posted by pbgd | Report as abusive

These same Forty-seven(47) TEA/KKK party senators have committed a felony according to investigation and interpretation of the Logan act passed in 1799. A FELONY! Here – fill their twitter about their idiocy!
@SenTomCotton Tom Cotton ****
@SenOrrinHatch
@chuckgrassley
@McConnellPress
@SenShelby
@senjohnmccain
@InhofePress
@senpatroberts
@senatorsessions
@SenatorEnzi
@mikecrapo
@GrahamBlog
@johncornyn John Cornyn
@senatorburr
@senjohnthune
@SenatorIsakson
@davidvitter
@senjohnbarrasso
@senatorwicker
@SenatorRisch
@SENATORKIRK
@RoyBlunt
@jerrymoran
@robportman
@johnboozman
@sentoomey
@senjohnhoeven
@marcorubio Marco Rubio
@senronjohnson
@senrandpaul
@senmikelee
@kellyayotte
@sendeanheller
@senatortimscott
@sentedcruz Rafael Eduardo Cruz
@senatorfischer
@SenCapito
@billcassidy
@sencorygardner
@SenatorLankford
@stevedaines
@SenatorRounds
@sendavidperdue
@senthomtillis
@senjoniernst
@SenSasse
@SenDanSullivan

Posted by RodolfoVicente | Report as abusive

Thank you for the history lesson. Nuclear weapons, and the means to deliver them around the world in hours, did not exist in 1812. The President’s only leverage.with Iran has been economic sanctions, approved by Congress. He thinks he can be Teddy Roosevelt, without the big stick.

Posted by Young12935 | Report as abusive

Well written, well researched and very interesting article. The comments by jacobmathews29 and Itcrunch demonstrate the appalling ignorance of many people. These people populate and make possible the current Republican party. The media has not given President Obama free reign, whatever that means, and the office and the person are to be respected, especially one as effective as President Obama. In addition a “treaty” is not being negotiated with Iran as we don’t even have diplomatic relations with them. The outcome would be an executive international agreement with six nations not requiring advice and consent of the Senate. It is done all the time. I hope the 47 senators who signed the incredibly stupid and traitorous letter pay the price now and at the polls. Now if Israel votes Netanyahu out that would be a bonus.

Posted by brian_pdx | Report as abusive

Sign the petition to file charges under the Logan Act against the 47 Traitorous Republican Clowns!!https://petitions.whitehouse.g…

269,000 already signed the petition and counting!! We’re Coming, Teabaggers!!

One Nation, under God, indivisible..”

Convict these traitors under the Logan Act, ship them off to Utah’s new firing squad executioners and let God sort them out at the Pearly Gates. They deserve to die and burn in hell for eternity with the rest of their Teajadist Brethren. Seriously.

Every day in the US the news gets more disgusting. We are the laughingstock of an obviously more mature and better educated international diplomatic community. The ignorance of these senators is breathtaking. With approval ratings hovering around 10%, why not just take them out of the food chain? Give America a fresh chance for decency and leadership by intelligent adults. These 47 Traitors totally fail.

Posted by sandtraveler | Report as abusive

Well written article. I rather despair that your conclusion is far too optimistic, however – given the nature of the average Teabilly GOP voter, things like “facts”, “historical precedent” and “the laws of the land” are irrelevant, subsumed beneath the shrill, angry gibberish of the lunatic fringe Right.
If you honestly believe (or have convinced yourself to believe, anyway) that Obama is the MarxistSocialistKenyanAtheistMuslimSomet hingSomethingBENGAZEEEEE™ portrayed by the likes of FauxNews, nothing will ever change your mind. As Steven Colbert famously said in his Correspondent’s Dinner speech, “here’s a man who will believe on Wednesday what he believed on Monday… no matter what happened on Tuesday.”

Posted by CallMeBeerBaron | Report as abusive

5 times Democrats undermined Republican presidents with foreign governments:

Before we get our panties in a was over the Republicans’ letter to Iran, we might consider the many times Democrat legislators have engaged in far more treasonous behavior, as outlined in the above titled Washington Examiner article of March 10.

http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/5-time s-democrats-undermined-republican-presid ents-with-foreign-governments/article/25 61314

And some of these people are the ones most vocally calling for Republican heads.

Posted by WilliamRy | Report as abusive

The President’s advisers need to be dismissed. With all of the disrespect that he has incurred, they should all be screaming for the DOJ to bring charges against these senators for treason. There once was a time where I commended him for always taking the high road. He said NOTHING when the ‘birthers’ attacked him. He said NOTHING when people called him commie-sympathizer, muslim-sympathizer, …and he said NOTHING when a congressman had the audacity to call him a liar during one of his addresses to the nation. HE NEEDS TO STEP UP, GROW A PAIR, and demand treason charges for all 47 of them. It’s one thing to not like black people or this black, successful President. You are well within your rights as a citizen to do just that, but when you consistently DISRESPECT ‘The Office of the President’ of this nation, that is an all-time low for our country and where we are headed. Bush II was a literal buffoon; however, I would NEVER condone ANYONE disrespecting him because he was OUR President. Now that we have a black man as Commander-in-Chief, all semblances of civility and decorum has been tossed out of the window but the current group of bigoted Republican politicians. It’s like they are perfectly taking the gloves off to put their ugliness on full display for the entire world to see and I think this is sad when we’ve sunk this low. On a ‘GOOD NOTE’… their current craziness will all but ensure that they will not see the inside of the Oval Office again in our lifetimes because the ultra-conservative, bible-thumping, gay-hating, people of color bashing, old Republican good-ole-boy’s network is a dying, shrinking breed. Brown people and the disenfranchised are becoming the new majority and the tide will not be changing anytime soon. Keep fighting immigration reform, Universal Healthcare, better pay for women, equal voting access for all. WE PROGRESSIVE-THINKING Americans DON’T CARE! We will just continue moving on without you.

Posted by Tony_inBmore | Report as abusive

No law was broken. Democrats can just go pound sand.

Posted by Sardaukar | Report as abusive

It doesn’t matter how much we criticize the Republicans for their idiocy: their moron base will continue to vote for them, and as a result America will continue to look like a ship of fools.

Posted by Calvin2k | Report as abusive

47 heroes standing up in defense of Democracy – I salute you!

Posted by Lowell_Thinks | Report as abusive

That Barak Hussein is a man of low moral character and should not be trusted is a fact but was not the point of the letter. The Iranians need to know what the citizens of this country, ignorant of the provisions of our Constitution need to know: All treaties between the United States and foreign countries HAVE to be approved by Congress before they have the force of law.
It is astonishing to me how quickly the Democrat Party is willing to allow this President to trash one of the cornerstones of our freedom. We are ruled by consent not by a dictatorship.
All the while that this President, via the State Department, has “negotiated” this treaty with Iran, the Iranian military was bombing mock-ups of U.S. Naval vessels for us and all the world to see. We do not need this treaty and less do we need to be portrayed to the world as fools to satisfy the perverse agenda of President Obama.

Posted by bigpinch | Report as abusive

There is no alternate viewpoint about the established roles of the president’s roles and duties while negotiating with foreign powers. Forty seven senators will no longer have their seats, and the Republican Party will fade into the history books.

Posted by GiggleBox | Report as abusive

The author is clearly a leftist as she attempts to reverse the roles in her analogy. In this situation of Cotton & group’s letter to Iran the Republicans are the loyal patriots. Their motivation is to fight a rogue president they don’t trust because he’s already shown he’s disloyal and usurping well beyond his powers granted by our constitution, and that he’s unpatriotic toward the American ideals of limited government and individual freedom to which Jefferson was devoted in her devious analogy.

Posted by HeresToFreedom | Report as abusive

The American people will never forget the blanket of shame you covered yourself in.

Posted by papaeasy | Report as abusive

These Senators do know that the US isn’t the only Country involved in these negotiations with Iran don’t they? What ever disrespect they have shown to the President, they have also shown to the governments of all the other nations involved. That is some special kinda stupid.

Posted by Brooke3 | Report as abusive

Cher, Hoffman,
All of your superlative educational credentials apparently do not enhance your view of reality. In fact, they, sadly, cloud your perceptions. Your commentary is incapable of informing your readers in a neutral, evaluative assessment of the issues. You have evolved into a Democratic party-liner, from what I can tell. For me, that’s the bottom line, and I need go no further reading your contributions.

Posted by Plinius | Report as abusive

You didn’t post my comment. So I won’t be reading your site and its comments in future

Posted by HeresToFreedom | Report as abusive

Republican foreign policy ignorance is how 4,000 Americans died in Iraq for nothing. Unless you think spending 2 trillion taxpayer dollars to provide ISIS a new home is…. good foreign policy?

Never trust a republican. Their whole party has basically degenerated into half-wits like Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

Sandtraveler never heard of the FIRST AMENDMENT. He also forgot about the 52 American hostages held in Iran for 444 days when the Iranian equivalent of the Taliban stormed the US embassy in Tehran in November 1979, initially taking over 100 American hostages. Sandtraveler also conveniently forgot about the 262 Marines who were blown to bits in their compound in Lebanon in 1993 when an Iranian sponsored Hezbollah terrorist drove a truck loaf of explosives into the building killing them.

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