What Will We Do With the Broken Congress?

The famous question, posed in song, asks, “What will we do with the drunken sailor?” Apparently, there are only four acceptable options: The crew could “shave his belly with a rusty razor”–which sounds distinctly unpleasant–or, much more agreeably, “put him in a longboat till he’s sober.” The sailor, presumably, would sleep it off there. But the crew also might–appallingly–”stick him in the scuppers with a hosepipe on him.” Shades of waterboarding here, or the old black and white footage of protesters being fire-hosed. My vote is for number four: “Put him in the bed with the Captain’s daughter.” That will always be my vote, if I’m ever asked.

Only I never am. Nobody is–the question in question is simply the title of a sea chanty. Yet here is something to ponder, and it can even be done while expropriating the tune: What will we do with the broken Congress?

  • Make it take a vote on the war we’re fighting?
  • Put it on oath and then make it speak truth?
  • Stick it on a corner with pencils to sell?

Forget the Captain’s daughter–Congress has been screwing its constituents for years. Since the Clinton administration, Republicans–in particular–have been ensorcelled purely by opposition. Let’s overlook the brinksmanship and obstructionism this has caused–the two government shutdowns and numerous debt ceiling crises–and consider the most recent shenanigans undergone by Republicans in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Independent of–indeed, specifically exclusive to–White House (or even State Department) approval, House Speaker John Boehner invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress on the issue of U.S.-Iran negotiations over nuclear weaponry.

“Congress can make this decision on its own,” Boehner told reporters back on January 21. “I don’t believe I’m poking anyone in the eye. There is a serious threat that exists in the world. The fact is that there needs to be a more serious conversation in America about how serious the threat is from radical Islamic jihadists and the threat posed by Iran.”

But Robert Kagan, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, wrote in a column in the January 30 Washington Post that, “U.S. congressional leaders probably should have given this invitation more thought. Although not a violation of the letter of the Constitution, it certainly seems to violate the idea that the nation speaks with one voice on foreign policy and that foreign leaders cannot choose whether they prefer to deal with Congress or the president.”

It gets worse. Worse because while the House did extend an invitation, said invitation was for that body to listen to an address. And there is a passivity to that. On March 9, however, 47 United States Senators quite proactively sent “An Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Many have opined that Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton and his 46 Republican cohorts violated the Logan Act when they penned the letter, which has undermined President Obama’s ongoing efforts to negotiate a nuclear agreement with those Iranian leaders. Passed in 1799, the Logan Act forbids any U.S. citizen–acting without official U.S. authority–from influencing “disputes or controversies” involving the U.S. and a foreign government.

Still, nowhere–at least in print–have I been able to read the letter. I offer it here to be remembered during every election season these Senators might run for office. Any office. I offer it here to hound any of their presidential aspirations.

It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system.  Thus, we are writing to bring to your attention two features of our Constitution — the power to make binding international agreements and the different character of federal offices — which you should seriously consider as negotiations progress.

First, under our Constitution, while the president negotiates international agreements, Congress plays the significant role of ratifying them.  In the case of a treaty, the Senate must ratify it by a two-thirds vote.  A so-called congressional-executive agreement requires a majority vote in both the House and the Senate (which, because of procedural rules, effectively means a three-fifths vote in the Senate).  Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement.

Second, the offices of our Constitution have different characteristics.

For example, the president may serve only two 4-year terms, whereas senators may serve an unlimited number of 6-year terms.  As applied today, for instance, President Obama will leave office in January 2017, while most of us will remain in office well beyond then — perhaps decades.

What these two constitutional provisions mean is that we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and 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.

We hope this letter enriches your knowledge of our constitutional system and promotes mutual understanding and clarity as nuclear negotiations progress.

Let us never forget that the following Republican Senators signed this…vomitus:  Cotton-AR; Hatch-UT; Grassley-IA; McConnell-KY; Shelby-AL; McCain-AZ; Inhofe-OK; Roberts-KS; Sessions-AL; Enzi-WY; Crapo-ID; Graham-SC; Cornyn-TX; Burr-NC; Thune-SD; Isakson-GA; Vitter-LA; Barrasso-WY; Wicker-MS; Risch-ID; Kirk-IL; Blunt-MO; Moran-KS; Portman-OH; Boozman-AZ; Toomey-PA; Hoeven-ND; Rubio-FL; Johnson-WI; Paul-KY; Lee-UT; Ayotte-NH; Heller-NV; Cruz-TX; Fischer-NE; Capito-WV; Gardner-CO; Lankford-OK; Daines-MT; Rounds-SD; Perdue-GA; Tillis-NC; Ernst-IA; Sasse-NE; Sullivan-AK.

And let us remember that the following Republican Senators did not: Murkowski-AK; Flake-AZ; Coats-IN; Collins-ME; Cochran-MS; Alexander-TN; Corker-TN.

Use your voice

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