The debate is intensifying in Congress over what lawmakers should do to place limits on President Obama’s authority to implement a deal with major world powers and Iran over the future of that country’s nuclear program. This is as it should be.
At the same time, however, the discussion among lawmakers has vanished entirely on another topic related to Obama’s authority to carry out foreign policy: Whether Congress will vote to limit Obama’s authority to wage war against ISIS.
This double-standard was pointed out to me by Senator Chris Murphy, a rising star within the Democratic Party who is emerging as a voice of sanity on Iran. Murphy has urged fellow Dems to exercise caution in supporting the Corker-Menendez bill restricting Obama’s ability to implement a nuclear deal pending a Congressional vote, which the White House fears could scuttle the whole process.
Murphy asks why Congress is so much more eager to vote to restrict Obama’s ability to carry out a negotiated diplomatic settlement than it is to vote to restrict his ability to wage war. Murphy agrees with the White House that Senate authorization is not required for Obama to temporarily lift sanctions as part of an Iran deal — because that deal would not be a treaty — though he thinks Congress should probably vote directly on the deal at some point, perhaps soon after it is signed. But Murphy disagrees with the White House on its request for a too-broad, too-vague Authorization for Use of Military Force against ISIS, and wants Congress to vote to place limits on that authority. And these two things go together.
“Congress should be spending its time debating an AUMF,” Murphy tells me. “We have a war going on in Iraq and Syria that is unauthorized and extra-Constitutional. We should be voting on an AUMF, which is required by the Constitution, rather than debating an Iran nuclear deal which hasn’t even been signed.”
“I’m first in line to reassert the power of Congress to stand next to the executive on foreign policy,” Murphy continues. “We have a Constitutional obligation to approve or disapprove of the war against ISIS. We do not have a Constitutional obligation to approve or disapprove an executive agreement with Iran.” Murphy notes, however, that a Congressional vote will be necessary to approve any permanent lifting of Congressional sanctions, which makes a Congressional vote on an Iran deal inevitable.
The White House’s rationale for expanding operations against ISIS without Congressional authorization was, and remains, deeply absurd, and its most recent request for authorization does nothing to change that. Congress should vote to place limits on Obama’s warmaking authority. But many Republicans have argued that Obama’s request is, if anything, too limiting, while Democrats want more limits on it. Rather than figure out how to bridge these gaps, Congress appears content to allow Obama to continue waging war without authorization — even as it feverishly debates how to place limits on his authority to implement an international deal that isn’t even close to complete yet.
“There’s clearly a double-standard,” Murphy argues. “Congress wants to be all over his diplomatic engagement, while appearing eager at times to stand aside when he intervenes militarily.”
* SENATE DEMS WAVERING ON IRAN BILL: This is interesting: The Hill reports that several Senate Democrats who had backed the Corker-Menendez bill — which the White House fears could scuttle a deal — are now wavering in their support, citing various problems with the legislation. I’ve already discussed some of these problems here; a more detailed discussion is here.
The key undecided Dems are Ben Cardin, the new ranking Foreign Relations Dem, Mark Warner, and Chris Coons. Next week’s committee mark-up will be crucial: Will Dems succeed in securing changes that limit the damage it can do? What would such changes look like? Or will the process cost the support of a few Dems, making it much harder for Republicans to secure a veto-proof majority?
* BIG GAPS REMAIN IN IRAN NUCLEAR FRAMEWORK: The New York Times has a useful overview of the major remaining issues that will still have to be resolved en route to reaching a final nuclear deal with Iran. The key ones: How tough are the restrictions on Iran’s ability to get advanced centrifuges up and running in the waning years of the deal and beyond? How will Iran be required to reduce its current uranium stockpile? Could the centrifuges kept at Fordo easily be converted back to enrichment if the deal fails?
All remaining ambiguities, of course, will be seized upon by critics to argue for Congressional votes in the interim that could scuttle the deal before it is finalized, though Congress can always vote to block implementation of the deal after it is signed, if it wants to.
* INSIDE OBAMA’S THINKING ON IRAN: David Ignatius has an interesting look at the myriad challenges that still remain in the quest for an Iran deal, and at what the White House really thinks about the longer-term implications of those challenges. Key overriding point: Obama’s strategy is driven in part by a willingness to see the situation through Iran’s eyes. On Congress:
Dealing with Congress will be its own special nightmare, as always for this administration. Obama needs a formula that allows members to reassure Netanyahu of their toughness, while keeping what many see as a pretty good Iran deal — and accepting that it’s the president, not Congress, who conducts foreign policy.
That formula may end up looking a bit like the endgame I laid out here yesterday.
* SOME HOPE FOR OBAMA’S DEPORTATION POLICY: Politico reports that a panel for the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has tossed out a separate, lower-profile lawsuit by Mississippi against Obama’s executive deportation policy. This could bode well for the administration’s chances in the lawsuit by states against the high-profile executive actions shielding millions from deportation, which have been blocked by a Texas judge. That will ultimately be ruled upon by the 5th Circuit as well.
The lower-profile suit was tossed on the basis that Mississippi lacked standing to bring the lawsuit, because harm it claimed from Obama’s policies was speculative. That could be the basis upon which the 5th Circuit sides with the government in the bigger case. We’ll know more later this month.
* FEEL THE CRUZ-MENTUM!!!! Bloomberg reports that groups supportive of Ted Cruz’s presidential run are expected to have raised a total of $31 million by Friday. The larger context:
While former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is universally expected to easily lead all other Republican presidential candidates in financial backing, a hotly debated topic in political circles has been who would finish second to Bush in money raised by the end of 2015. This week’s apparent lightning strike could help Cruz claim that spot, possibly besting other leading prospects such as Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.
Worth watching: Whether Cruz seriously cuts into the support of whoever emerges as the leading not-Jeb candidate.
* FACT CHECKING RAND PAUL’S ANNOUNCEMENT: Glenn Kessler compiles all of the distortions and truth-stretching in Rand Paul’s presidential announcement speech. Shockingly, some of the most conspicuous examples concern the size of government and the debt, as well as old shibboleths about how we supposedly borrow all our money from China and are giving away huge gobs of the budget in foreign aid.
But Paul is The Most Interesting Man In Politics, so who cares whether what he says is true or not?
* AND RAND PAUL VOWS ‘OPEN MIND’ ON IRAN DEAL: Senator Paul, in an interview with NBC News’ Savanna Guthrie, says that he is going to “keep an open mind” on a pending Iran deal, adding that “negotiation is better than war.”
An open mind on a major Obama initiative? The man is toast among GOP primary voters.