Editorial: Constitutional lesson lost in letter to Iran

To the 47 Republican senators who sent that letter to the Islamic Republic of Iran downplaying the significance of any nuclear development deal they might make with President Obama: Boy, did you whiff it.

I'm not sure what your goals were, but what you did was make yourselves look like political amateurs who don't understand the offices you hold.

"It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our country that you may not fully understand our constitutional system," the letter states, before going on to note that while Obama will leave office after the 2016 elections, "most of us [in the Senate] will remain in office well beyond then - perhaps decades."

The letter states that when it comes to international agreements, "Congress plays the significant role of ratifying them" - which, as a legal scholar pointed out, isn't accurate.

"It appears from the letter that the Senators do not understand our constitutional system or the power to make binding agreements," wrote Jack Goldsmith, a professor at Harvard Law School, on the Lawfare blog. The Senate gives its advice and consent, and the president has the role of ratifying the treaty.

"This is a technical point that does not detract from the letter's message that any administration deal with Iran might not last beyond this presidency," Goldsmith continued. "But in a letter purporting to teach a constitutional lesson, the error is embarrassing."

That's the thing, senators: You have a point. Without Congress along for the ride, any deal the Obama administration strikes with Iran over its nuclear program would be on shaky ground once he leaves office.

But you know what? The Iranians know this. All you've done is try to undercut your fellow Americans at the negotiating table while ending up with egg on your faces.

The letter was the brainchild of freshman Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who as a lawyer and combat veteran really should've known better. What surprised me - although perhaps it shouldn't have - is that our own Sen. John McCain, a man of far more senatorial experience, signed on to this misguided effort. (Sen. Jeff Flake wisely did not join in.)

In responding to the negative storm that followed the letter's release, McCain made a whiff of his own when trying to explain what happened.

"It was kind of a very rapid process," he said, according to Politico. "Everybody was looking forward to getting out of town because of the snowstorm."

Wow. That's showing real leadership, senator.