Forty-seven Republican senators are getting plenty of response to the diplomatic monkey wrench they attempted to throw into the nuclear nonproliferation talks taking place between Iran and six world powers, including the United States.

The senators claimed to be offering the Iranians some free advice about the workings of our Constitution: Any agreement reached by the Obama administration that is not to their liking, they said, could be wiped out “with the stroke of a pen.” The message was clear that Iran might as well not even bother talking to the president.

The letter was “reckless” and “irresponsible,” said the White House. It was a “propaganda stunt,” said the Iranian foreign minister, who, in a lengthy response, explained that it was the senators who didn’t understand the Constitution.

Even the reliably Republican Wall Street Journal called it a “distraction” that would have the opposite effect than the one the senators intended.

Most observers agree that it was a shocking departure from the American tradition of bipartisan foreign policy, where, in the words of Republican Sen. Arthur Vandenberg, “politics ends at the water’s edge.”

The letter was an embarrassment, but at least in Maine we have something to be proud of. Neither Maine senator was ready to risk upending sensitive security talks to make cheap political points.


Maine’s senior Sen. Susan Collins was one of only seven Republicans who did not add her name to the letter. Collins said she shared some of the authors’ concerns, but did not think it was appropriate for members of Congress to be communicating with a foreign power while their own country was at the negotiating table. “It’s more appropriate for members of the Senate to give advice to the president, to Secretary Kerry and to the negotiators,” Collins told Politico.

“I don’t think that the ayatollah is going to be particularly convinced by a letter from members of the Senate, even one signed by a number of my distinguished and high ranking colleagues.”

In another interview, Collins pointed out that any deal that involves lifting sanctions against Iran would have to have the approval of Congress, because the sanctions exist in statute. The senators will get their chance to review a deal – if the parties ever reach one.

Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, also kept his name off the letter. On the floor of the Senate he chastised his colleagues, wondering what would have happened if members of Congress had written Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev during the Cuban missile crisis, saying, “Don’t listen to this Kennedy guy, he doesn’t speak for us.”

King is working on a bill that would give the Senate a 60-day window to review a deal with Iran, if one is ever reached.

The Republicans in the Senate may have made that less likely, and the letter’s primary author, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, said that was his intent. A nuclear-armed Iran would be a heavy price to pay for a headline-grabbing ploy.

The response the senators are getting can’t be what they were hoping for. When they try to figure out what to do next, maybe they will listen to their more judicious colleagues, like the ones from Maine.

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