This is an update to an earlier article. Lawmakers in congress are about to pass a bill disapproving the Iranian nuclear deal and they will do so by an overwhelming margin. Every single Republican in congress is slated to disapprove the deal. Despite such strong opposition, Democrats in congress will have enough votes to sustain an anticipated presidential veto. As a result, the Iran deal, which a significant majority of Americans oppose, will be upheld.
If this sounds illogical, it’s because it is. If it sounds un-democratic, it’s because it is. If it sounds like congress found a devious way to ignore the will of the people they represent, it’s because it did.
So, how was this Alice-in-Wonderland feat accomplished by congress and what purpose does it serve?
The deal will be approved because both political parties in congress cynically agreed to a process where it would only take a minority of its members; in this case, only one-third of the house or one-third of the senate, to sustain President Obama’s expected veto. Congress, with the support of Republicans who unanimously oppose the Iran deal, intentionally altered the way it usually does business.
Normally, it takes a majority vote of the house and senate to approve a bill. If the bill passes and the president vetoes the bill, it would take two-thirds of the house and senate to override the veto and pass the measure into law. If the Iran deal were handled in the customary manner, the deal would fail to receive approval from congress because there are more than enough Republican votes to ensure that outcome. And when a bill fails, the question of a presidential veto becomes moot because a president cannot veto a bill that congress, in effect, already vetoed.
But the Iran deal was not handled by congress in the normal manner. Instead, congress deceitfully framed the language of the Iran bill as a negative statement, thereby making it susceptible to a presidential veto. In other words, congress, with the full consent of Republicans, deliberately changed the normal wording of the bill, where a yes vote means approval of the measure, into phrasing where a yes vote means disapproval of the measure. By cleverly expressing the proposition in such a convoluted manner, a majority in congress can vote to disapprove the Iran deal. But the majority can be overruled by the president’s expected veto, which will only require one-third of the house or senate to sustain it. Both parties in congress agreed to this elliptical approach knowing full well that Democrats on their own could scare up enough votes to sustain a presidential veto.
In this manner, congress completed the tortuous journey from handling the Iran nuclear deal as a treaty, which requires two-thirds of the senate to be ratified, to an executive agreement, which only requires one-third of congress to be upheld. This sleight of hand was orchestrated so that congressmen, including all members of the Republican Party and a small number of Democrats, could publically say to their constituents that they are opposed to the deal. At the same time, the same opponents made sure congress would not be able to override the president’s veto. It’s basically a hypocritical way for a majority of our elected officials, who say they oppose the bill, to save face, while proponents of the bill, in the minority, are allowed to get the resolution passed in a roundabout way.
Incredibly, well over 90% of congress approved this duplicitous voting procedure last May so that the unpopular Iran nuclear agreement could later be approved by the U.S. government. At that point, the fix was in. Republicans, the most outspoken critics of the deal, knew the resolution would pass with the sole support of Democrats, who hold a minority of the seats in congress. And this is exactly what will happen. It was basically a done deal before the first vote was cast and every member of congress knew it.
It is by this means that opponents of the Iran nuclear deal conceded defeat instead of standing firm on principle, as their constituents elected them to do. Lawmakers can say they had a voice in the process and tried hard to defeat the measure, but their acceptance of a duplicitous congressional procedure guaranteeing its defeat gives the lie to their claim. These congressmen count on the fact that most Americans don’t pay attention and, even if they did, it would take too much effort to see their way through the smoke and mirrors. So much for representative government; so much for transparency.
According to the Washington Post, 55 percent of voters opposed the deal in a Quinnipiac University poll released on September 1st — more than double the 25 percent who supported it. A mid-August CNN-ORC poll found 56 percent saying Congress should reject the deal, though in a separate question, 50 percent supported the broad framework. If 55 to 56% rejected the deal, as currently structured, why did congress conspire to lower the bar and permit only 33% of its members to sustain a veto when it wasn’t necessary to do so? This is nothing short of an insult to Americans, whom they are supposed to represent.
The Iran deal reveals the mendacity of our elected officials in its most repugnant light. You would think that something as important to the U.S. and as existential to our ally, Israel, would be treated with the gravity and dignity that it deserves.
Senator Corker, the Republican Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has earned special condemnation for his double-dealing and mind-numbing hypocrisy by publically complaining that Secretary Kerry was fleeced by the Iranians; at the same time Corker was among the architects of the rules that would make it extremely hard to stop the deal. Congress’s vote to disapprove the Iranian deal is akin to quantum mechanics where a particle can appear to be in two places at the same time. Who knew our elected representatives were quantum physicists on a legislative level? But that would underestimate their cunning. Where there’s a will, you can count on a politician to find the way. Apparently, this deal, loudly castigated by congressional Republicans, is somehow worthy enough to sustain the presidential veto that awaits it.
The Iranian nuclear accord cynically weaved its way through the back corridors of congress so that its members could say with a straight face that they got something done, albeit something they say could wind up getting us all killed. Why is it so important that this flawed deal be supported? The way the deal finds its way around congressional disapproval (as Machiavellian and despicable as it is) is less important than WHY it is getting rammed through congress, despite broad public disapproval.
Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute said the following:
“Corker has known for some time that the president and the United Nations were on their way to approving the Iran agreement. Once the president has made a deal with all these other nations, endorsed by the U.N. Security Council, if Congress votes to block it, it’s not going to look good for anybody — the country or them. So, you find a way to make it work.”
This explanation is weak and naïve. Since when does congress, particularly a Republican-led congress, have much respect for the United Nations, especially when it comes to protecting our strategic interests and those of our ally, Israel? Since when is the senate willing to forego its Constitutional duty to approve a treaty (for that is exactly what the Iran deal really is) just because a president went ahead and cut a dubious, if not dangerous, deal with foreign countries without the senate’s consent, apparently so he can burnish (or, some would say, tarnish) his legacy?
Lawmakers have used a similar atypical procedure to raise the debt ceiling in order to prevent shutting down the government. But temporarily shutting down government services is a far cry from rejecting a nuclear deal with Iran, which is the greatest sponsor of terrorism on the planet and a country who wishes us all dead.
The answer must lie elsewhere. Everyone knows China, Russia and our European partners are anxious to start doing business with Iran. Once the crushing sanctions are lifted on Iran, which is a key component of the Iranian deal, there is a lucrative market in Iran to be exploited. In fact, the Europeans are so hungry to transact business with Iran that planeloads of businessmen are beating path to Tehran to explore potential trade agreements. Rest assured, that businessmen in the U.S. are just as anxious to do business with Iran, but unfortunately for them, the sanctions related to Iranian terrorism and human rights, enacted in 1995, will remain in effect. This precludes banks, oil companies, and consumer-goods companies from trading with Iran. Exceptions allow civilian aircraft companies, like Boeing, and companies providing food and medicine to do business with Iran.
So, if the Iranian deal doesn’t permit the U.S. to transact commercial business with Iran, except for the noted exceptions, what would drive congress to accept a deal that most of their constituents reject? The answer is not flattering. It is probably means that our elected representatives are not only untrustworthy, but that they are also plain stupid or poor negotiators, or both. And this is exactly what the polls reflect. This glaring example of congressional malpractice explains why only 13% of Americans say congress is doing a good or excellent job. When the margin of error is factored in, the approval rating of congress drops into single digits.
Americans are too educated and perceptive for this kind of hypocritical nonsense to continue. Americans are a forgiving and generous people, but they have grown weary of career politicians in Washington, who fail to do what they say once they are in office. To add insult to injury, these elected officials create recondite rules that provide them cover. They know full well that something they claim to oppose will find its way into law because they themselves paved the way. All they care about are themselves and their ability to spin bullshit into cotton candy. The will of the people is secondary to them. Once again, congress, through procedural chicanery, has demonstrated the need for politician-proof representation in our government. Americans are sick and tired of being punked by wise-guy politicians.
Americans may not be aware of the shenanigans involved in getting the Iran deal approved, but they know intuitively that they are being played for fools. It also explains why non-politician Republicans like Trump, Carson, and Fiorina are currently leading presidential polls and why establishment politicians are not.
Americans may not confine their dislike and distrust of career politicians to the presidential race. The disapproval could extend to congressional races down ticket. No career politician may be safe at this point. Hopefully, this isn’t a passing fancy but a solid step toward good governance, which would be a welcome change.