The backlash continued Tuesday after 47 Republican senators sent a signed letter to Iran's leaders warning them against cutting a nuclear deal with the Obama administration.
The letter, organized by Senator Tom Cotton, a freshman from Arkansas, warned Iran that “we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei. The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”
The New York Daily News on Tuesday put photos of Cotton, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on its front page along with the boldfaced headline “TRAITORS.”
The Wall Street Journal took down the letter in an editorial Tuesday calling the deal with Iran possibly “the security blunder of the young century” and saying that Congress should vote on it, “which is why it’s too bad that Republican Senators took their eye off that ball on Monday with a letter to the government of Iran.”
“If anyone had any reservations that what the Republicans did when they brought Benjamin Netanyahu to Congress to address Congress was not an effort to undercut the president, this then could perhaps seal the deal in your mind that everything they do is focused in almost an obsessive and destructive way to undermine the president and to undermine the president’s effort to get a deal as opposed to going to war,” she said.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Monday said the letter's goal was to “undermine” negotiations with Iran, but also noted that if the Obama administration reached an agreement over Iran's nuclear program that it would not be a treaty subject to congressional ratification.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, meanwhile, said it was highly unusual for a political party to insert itself into a foreign-policy negotiation in opposition to the president.
“Republicans are undermining our commander-in-chief while empowering the ayatollahs,” he said from the Senate floor Monday. “We should always have robust debate about foreign policy, but 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.”
On Twitter, observers were quick to call the move by Senate Republicans “treason.”
But the president's critics often have used the same word to describe Obama's foreign policy moves.
And some, like prospective presidential candidate Ben Carson, have levied that charge with regard to domestic spending.
According to the U.S. legal code, the definition of treason is fairly specific:
Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.
While Iran has been a U.S. enemy for some time, no official war declaration exists. It's hard to see how the negotiation of a nuclear deal, or the opposition to one, would rise to the level of treason. What has been perfectly clear since the start of the year is that Congress and the president see the Iran issue through different lenses. From the invitation of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak in the House of Representatives without first consulting Obama, to the letter sent to Iranian leaders on Monday, the level of distrust between the two parties has reached new levels.
Alison Elkin contributed to this report.