How Congress let another of its constitutional powers slip from its fingers

Obama and Biden after remarks Iran nuke deal. (AP photo via NY Times)

“He (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

The Senate has punted away its authority and power under the Constitution over the “treaty” with Iran to try to curb its nuclear ambitions. In the deal that was brokered, Congress now has 60 days to review the agreement. Then it can approve, disapprove or do nothing. Obama promises to veto a resolution of disapproval, and it would take a two-thirds vote of both houses to override.

Not two-thirds of the Senate would have to approve.

The Washington Post explains how this came about. Since getting 67 senators to agree on complex treaties was difficult to say the least, in the 1930s, Franklin Roosevelt, already notorious for cutting constitutional corners, decided he wouldn’t call his international deals treaties.

“When is a treaty not a treaty?” professor Charles Stevenson, at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies told the Post. “When it’s not called a treaty.” Otherwise: “There’s no other difference.”

The Post said such non-treaty treaties now outnumber treaties by 10-to-1.

As for the Iran nuke deal, it is hard to find another international deal with such ominous potential for disaster. Or is there?

Winston Churchill to the House of Commons, October 1938, on the Munich Agreement:

They should know that there has been gross neglect and deficiency in our defences; they should know that we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road; they should know that we have passed an awful milestone in our history, when the whole equilibrium of Europe has been deranged, and that the terrible words have for the time being been pronounced against the Western democracies:

“Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting.”

And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.

Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton said of the Iran deal, “We have given Iran the path it has been seeking for almost 35 years. The other states in the region are not going to sit idly by, which is why in effect the nuclear arms race is already underway.”

Nevelle Chamberlain returns from Munich

9 comments on “How Congress let another of its constitutional powers slip from its fingers

  1. nyp says:

    To you guys, it is always Munich.

  2. Obama is obsessed with trying to delay Iran’s nuclear program, but how do you think Iran will spend that $100 billion to $150 billion in unfrozen assets? There is an embargo selling weapons to Iran, but money is fungible. Conventional weapons can wreak a lot of havoc.

  3. nyp says:

    1. In that case there is no arms control agreement of any kind that you would consider to be acceptable, because any agreement would involve the relaxing of sanctions and the unfreezing of assets.

    2. The US sanctions on Iran do not matter very much, as we haven’t had anything to do with them in 35 years. What brought Iran to the table were the sanctions imposed by their former trading partners in Asia/Europe. If we blow up this deal simply b/c we think Iran should continue to be immiserated, Japan, China, Germany, France, et al will not re-impose sanctions.

    3. This idea that Iran has not been able to provide sufficent support to its Shiite allies because it doesn’t have the scratch is not very impressive to me. They seem to have enough cash to prop up Hizbollah, etc.

  4. 3. They’ll now have more scratch.

  5. nyp says:

    True dat.

  6. Steve says:

    On numbers 2 and 3 I agree with Nyp. 35 years of economic sanctions wren’t doing anything to Iran and in fact were costing us in energy prices. Iran has been able to grow its economy with other trading partners enough to do whatever it likes in supporting what we call terrorist groups in the area. Iran has plenty of money.
    Additionally Iran has shown itself fully capable of producing the fuel it would need to make nukes. I can think of only one reason they have not done so, the US invasion of Iraq showed them what their own future would look like if they did make even one bomb (and got caught with it).

    Making relations with Iran more open can only make it possible to police the agreement and gain more reliable intelligence of their actions with the nuclear djinn.

    On number 1 I would like to have seen more robust oversight and enforcement woven into the agreement. Maybe with most of Europe involved in this effort the deal will be policeable.

    Pakistan and India haven’t launched nukes at each other and they hate each other. Can’t shove the djinn back in the bottle, have to learn to live with it.

  7. Winston Smith says:

    The main point is, just because it’s difficult to get the Senate to properly ratify an international treaty, doesn’t mean the Constitution should be ignored by calling it an executive agreement.

    1.A treaty requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate while an executive agreement does not.
    2.A treaty is a formal agreement while an executive agreement is not as formal as a treaty.
    3.A treaty is carried on to the successive Presidents while an executive agreement has to be renegotiated every time.
    4.An executive agreement is of two types while a treaty is not.
    5.A President may invoke an executive agreement but not a treaty.
    6.There are many more executive agreements as compared to treaties.

    Instead of requiring a 2/3 majority to pass the treaty, it’ll take a 2/3 majority to stop the treaty. So, basically, they’re screwing with the system in order to get what they want. This is a bunch of D.C. political bullshit, as per usual.

  8. […] McCullough, like some other pundit we know and respect, described the historic nature of this ill-begotten […]

  9. […] brokered a deal with the administration t0 allow the Iran deal to be labeled an executive agreement, rather that […]

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