Sen. Cotton Slams Ruling on President’s Foreign Policy Authority As 'Potentially Dangerous'

By Patrick Goodenough | June 12, 2015 | 4:05 AM EDT

Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton has led criticism on Capitol Hill of the administration's Iran policy. (AP Photo, Richard Rasmussen, File)

( – A Supreme Court ruling this week affirming the president's exclusive power to recognize foreign nations and governments is “a remarkable and disturbing break with precedent,” especially with President Obama in the White House, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said on Thursday.

Reacting to the court’s decision backing the executive branch’s right to refuse to include the word “Israel” on the passports of American citizens born in Jerusalem, Cotton said it had “unwisely and indeterminately expanded the president’s unchecked discretion in the conduct of foreign affairs.”

“That is a potentially dangerous opening, particularly with the current president,” he said on the Senate floor.

“President Obama has shown an unhealthy penchant for both ignoring the law, and for granting unilateral concessions to long-time enemies abroad. That tendency cannot, and must not, go unchecked.”

While Cotton did not elaborate on that point, he has spearheaded criticism in the U.S. Senate of the administration’s Iran policy, ahead of a deeply controversial nuclear agreement due to be finalized with Tehran by June 30.

Last March he initiated an open letter, signed by another 46 Republican senators, informing the Iranian regime that they will consider any nuclear agreement that Congress does not approve “as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and [supreme leader] Ayatollah Khamenei.”

“The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time,” the letter said.

The senators wrote that the Iranians “may not fully understand our constitutional system,” and underlined Congress’ role in approving international agreements.

Since the pending nuclear agreement is not an international treaty, it does not require ratification by two-thirds of the U.S. Senate. Congress did, however, secure the right to review, and potentially vote on, any negotiated nuclear deal. Obama signed the Iran Nuclear Review Act on May 22.

‘Embarrassing hyperbole … complete nonsense’

In its 6-3 ruling Monday, the majority of Supreme Court justices struck down a 2002 law that directed the secretary of state to allow the word “Israel” to be printed on the passports of those Jerusalem-born U.S. citizens who request it.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion that Congress “has no constitutional power that would enable it to initiate diplomatic relations with a foreign nation.”

“Put simply, the nation must have a single policy regarding which governments are legitimate in the eyes of the United States and which are not,” he said. When recognizing foreign governments, the nation must speak with one voice.

“That voice must be the president’s.”

Chief Justice John Roberts, dissenting, said the decision was unprecedented.

“Today’s decision is a first: Never before has this court accepted a president’s direct defiance of an Act of Congress in the field of foreign affairs,” he wrote, with Justice Samuel Alito agreeing.

In his floor speech Cotton also commented on the narrow issue in dispute in the case. He noted that the administration based its refusal to obey the 2002 passport law on the argument that doing so would “upend the peace process” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

“The State Department declared that complying with the law would critically compromise U.S. efforts to forge an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, significantly harm our foreign policy and cause irreversible damage to the United States’ role as an honest broker,” he said.

“This is embarrassing hyperbole, and it’s also complete nonsense.”

“The role of an honest broker in negotiations is just that – to be honest,” Cotton said.

“So let’s be honest: Israel’s seat of government is located in Jerusalem. Israel administers the entire city. Over 500,000 Israelis live and work in Jerusalem. The reality is that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and any final agreement, whether it includes some sort of sharing arrangement or not, will not change that.”

Progress in efforts to end the conflict will not occur, Cotton said, “if the Palestinians remain unreasonably sensitive to peripheral issues such as passports. It will not move forward if the president is afraid to speak the truth.”

“And it will not move forward,” he concluded, “if the United States Congress is restrained from adding a dose of reality to the conduct of our foreign affairs.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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