Speeches

I'd like to thank the Majority Leader for scheduling this debate about the agreement struck by the Obama administration and the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

And it is important to highlight – right up front – what this deal is: nothing more than a political agreement between President Obama and the leaders of Iran.

This deal does not have the support of the American people. Nor will it have the consent of their elected representatives in Congress. At no point in the course of negotiating this deal did the Obama administration seek the advice and consent of the Senate, or display any respect for the constitutional limits on the executive in foreign affairs.

Nevertheless, I’m glad the Senate is debating this agreement – because this is how the Senate is supposed to function: on the basis of open and robust deliberation. And I hope it’s how the Senate will function well into the future – on matters of national security and domestic policy. 

But if the debate we’re trying to have today could be congressional deliberation at its best, the Obama administration’s deal with Iran is the product of diplomacy at its worst.

As the negotiations neared completion earlier this year, President Obama began building his case for it on the specious claim that the only alternative to the deal is war.

This black-or-white set up – the notion that the art of statesmanship is little more than navigating a series of "either/or" propositions – is plainly absurd.

We learned this from the fiasco following the New START Treaty in 2010. At the time, President Obama and Secretary Clinton warned that it was the only way to “reset” our relationship with Russia. But now, five years later, we know it was, in fact, the starting point for the worst era of U.S.-Russia relations since the Cold War.

But the Obama administration has repeated this “my-way-or-war” maxim with such faithful devotion that it appears, at some point along the way, they began to believe it themselves.

Just look at the facts of this deal.

Fact number one: the centerpiece of the agreement is the lifting of significant portions of the multilateral financial, energy, and transportation sanctions currently imposed against Iran.

Lifting these sanctions, prior to any meaningful action by Iran, will immediately give the world's largest supporter of terrorism access to tens of billions of dollars in frozen assets. And that's just on day one. Welcoming Iran with open arms to the global marketplace will provide untold future riches to Tehran's revolutionary government.

The current sanctions are not perfect. But they are in place for a very good reason: to restrict Iran's access to resources that we know its radical leaders will use to acquire nuclear weapons and continue exporting terrorism around the world.

This isn’t a matter of speculation or hyperbole. It’s exactly what their leaders have told us.

These sanctions were originally put into place in response to Iran's repeated violations of previous nuclear agreements. And it is complete fantasy to believe that they can be revived in the future when – not if – they cheat on this deal.

Fact number two: nothing in the agreement will prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. 

Under the terms of the deal, the Iranian government will be allowed to conduct research on more advanced nuclear centrifuges after eight years. And after fifteen years there will be no limits whatsoever on their nuclear fuel production.

To believe that this deal will stop the Iranian nuclear-weapons program requires an act of blind faith.

Fact number three: this agreement will increase Iran’s access to conventional weapons and ballistic missiles. It will do this by providing for the removal of the UN Conventional Arms and Ballistic Missile technology embargo.

If this seems out of place in an agreement that was supposed to be about Iran’s nuclear-weapons program, that’s because it is.

It was never supposed to be a part of the deal. But in the eleventh hour of negotiations, the Ayatollah demanded it, sensing – rightly – that the Obama administration was unlikely to object.

Mr. President, this deal is not the work of savvy negotiation, but of desperate capitulation.

For years this administration has been dead set on reaching a deal – any deal – with the mullahs of Iran. And that’s why they got the deal they did: an agreement that fulfills a wish list for the Iranians and the sprawling network of terrorist groups that depend on their largesse, including Hezbollah, Hamas, the Houthis in Yemen, and Bashar al-Assad’s tyrannical regime in Syria.

And what does the United States get in exchange?

A promise from the Ayatollah to abandon Iran’s thirty-five-year quest for deliverable nuclear weapons – weapons they crave for the explicit purpose, as they put it, of wiping Israel off the face of the earth and fulfilling the aspiration of their infamous motto, "Death to America."

Evidently, this is good enough for the Obama administration and the supporters of the deal. But it's not good enough for the American people.

In fact, the public opposes the proposed deal by a 2-to-1 margin – but not because they are clamoring for war with Iran.

The truth is most Americans would prefer a diplomatic solution to the problems posed by Iran's apocalyptic, nuclear-ambitious theocracy. But this is not a diplomatic solution; this diplomacy won’t solve anything.

I would note, Mr. President, that the public's overwhelming opposition to the Iran deal did not catch the Obama administration by surprise.

In fact, public opposition to the deal was one of the primary reasons the administration decided not to submit the agreement to the Senate for ratification as a treaty.

When Secretary Kerry testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee several weeks ago, I asked him to explain why the agreement with Iran was not submitted to the Senate as a treaty for ratification.

His answer was, in effect, that the deal does not amount to a treaty because it is a multilateral agreement that involves more countries than just Iran and the United States.

But the inclusion of multiple parties to an international agreement has absolutely no bearing on whether it should be considered a treaty. 

There is no shortage of examples of multilateral agreements that have been ratified by the Senate – including the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Which is why I think the more honest – and the more troubling – answer was the one provided one day earlier when Congressman Reid Ribble of Wisconsin asked Secretary Kerry the exact same question: why does the Obama administration not consider the Iran deal to be a treaty?

This was Secretary Kerry's response: “Well Congressman, I spent quite a few years trying to get a lot of treaties through the United States Senate, and frankly, it's become physically impossible. That's why. Because you can't pass a treaty anymore.”

This, Mr. President, is indefensible.

Secretary Kerry’s appeal to expedience shows either an ignorance of – or a disdain for – both principle and precedent.  

The Senate has not lost the ability to ratify treaties.

No, the Senate is perfectly capable of ratifying treaties, as it did 160 times during the George W. Bush administration. It’s just reluctant to ratify unpopular treaties that undermine U.S. interests.

From the Obama administration’s perspective, this is a problem with the Senate.

But from the Constitution’s perspective, this is the purpose of the Senate. And it’s exactly why the Framers included the Senate in the treaty-making process.

Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution states that 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.''

The sharing of the treaty-making power between the executive and the Senate is not a quirk. Nor is it optional. It is a constitutional command. Both branches are essential.

The executive is best suited to manage negotiations with foreign nations. But only legislative consent can grant the kind of broad political consensus necessary to ensure that the United States lives up to the terms of the agreement in the long run.

In The Federalist Alexander Hamilton defended the sharing of treaty-making power between the executive and the Senate. He wrote,

The history of human conduct does not warrant that exalted opinion of human virtue which would make it wise in a nation to commit interests of so delicate and momentous a kind, as those which concern its intercourse with the rest of the world, to the sole disposal of [the] President of the United States.

Of course, not all international agreements are treaties – and those that aren’t do not need legislative consent in order to go into effect.

But historically, agreements that make long-term commitments or include significant changes to the United States’ relationship with another country have been considered treaties and submitted to the Senate for approval.

As I see it, the Iran deal fits both of these categories. The terms of the deal purport to extend well beyond President Obama’s remaining time in office. And, according to the administration’s own reckoning, this agreement will fundamentally alter the relationship between the United States and Iran. 

People of good faith can disagree about whether the Iran deal should be considered a treaty or merely an executive agreement – though not on the farcical grounds provided by Secretary Kerry.

But this is a debate that’s worth having – it’s a debate the American people deserve – for the sake of our national security and the health of our political institutions.

And it’s a debate that must include the Senate, just as the Constitution requires.

The past few months have been a case study of the dysfunction and the danger that result when the executive chooses to ignore – instead of engage with – the Senate to determine whether an international agreement should be considered a treaty.

The president’s go-it-alone approach has become all-too-familiar in the realm of domestic policy.

President Obama has spent much of the last six and a half years justifying his will-to-power presidency on the basis of expedience.

Constitutional restraints and historical precedent have only slowed – never stopped – the president’s routine abuse of power to unilaterally impose his domestic policy preferences on the country.

And now, with this Iran deal failing to receive the support of even half of the Senate, the president appears willing to extend his imperial presidency to the area of foreign policy.

Mr. President, we must do everything in our power to stop this Iran agreement from receiving congressional sanction. The facts are clear: this is a bad deal for global security; it’s a bad deal for our allies, including Israel, our strongest ally in the Middle East; and it’s a bad deal for the American people.

But we must also learn from this experience.

Later this year the Obama administration will negotiate a major international climate change agreement – what will be known as the Paris Protocol.

Already the administration has indicated it does not intend to submit the Protocol to the Senate for ratification – even though the agreement would call for a significant expansion of the already-broad powers of our federal regulatory regime.

It would empower unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats to seize even more control over the American energy sector and insert themselves ever further into the everyday lives of the American people.

On account of its expected size, scope, and effect on the American economy, failure to submit the Paris Protocol to the Senate as a treaty would be an unprecedented and dangerous abuse of executive power.

Now is the time to make clear – to ourselves, to the White House, and to the American people – that the Senate understands, and plans to defend, the centrality of the treaty-making process to the negotiation of international commitments, and the full and rightful role of the Senate in that process.