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How The Iran Letter Is Playing In The 2016 Campaign

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker contends that the next president might not be bound by a nuclear deal President Obama strikes with Iran.
Nicholas Kamm
AFP/Getty Images
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker contends that the next president might not be bound by a nuclear deal President Obama strikes with Iran.

Forty-seven Senate Republicans signed a letter to Tehran's leaders Monday questioning the authority of any agreement Iran might sign with President Obama that is not ratified by Congress. And it's becoming an issue in the 2016 presidential campaign with potential Republican candidates signing onto the letter.

Tom Cotton, the freshman Arkansas senator behind the letter, even tweeted a Farsi translation directly to the Iranian president and foreign minister.

The move has enraged Democrats. The hashtag #47traitors was trending on Twitter, and a petition to charge the senators as being in violation of the Logan Act has gotten more than the required 100,000 signatures for the White House to respond.

(By Thursday morning, it had more than 200,000 signatures. The White House, however, is likely to defer to the Department of Justice as it routinely does with petitions calling for legal action. See that Justin Bieber petition.)

The letter also comes a week after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Congress about his reservations on a potential nuclear deal with Iran.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a likely 2016 contender, co-sponsored the prime minister's invitation and signed onto the letter to Iran, though he later denied in an interview with NBC's Today that he was trying to undermine the president in negotiating with Iran. Instead, he said he was actually trying "to strengthen the president's hand."

Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, leading early Republican primary polls, also expressed support for the senators.

"The Senators are reacting to reports of a bad deal that will likely enable Iran to become a nuclear state over time," Bush said in a statement. "They would not have been put in this position had the Administration consulted regularly with them rather than ignoring their input."

Walker stressed that the president should seek congressional authorization.

"Unless the White House is prepared to submit the Iran deal it negotiates for congressional approval, the next president should not be bound by it," Walker said in his statement.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida — who got into a heated back and forth with Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday during a congressional hearing about Iran and fighting the so-called Islamic State — signed onto the letter. In a fundraising email, his PAC highlighted that he was "proud to be one of the first senators to sign."

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed onto the letter after it was released.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry also said he "would be proud and honored to sign the letter." Perry linked to his video on Facebook about the nuclear threat Iran poses:

Jindal went a step further, saying anyone running for president "should sign on."

"Every single person thinking about running for president, on both sides, should sign on to this letter to make clear to Iran that they are negotiating with a lame-duck president," Jindal said in a statement. "Make no mistake, any Iran deal that President Obama makes is not binding on a future president."

Of course, not every presidential contender agrees.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed the letter Monday at the beginning of a news conference designed to put aside a controversy of her own about a different form of written communication.

"Either these senators were trying to be helpful to the Iranians or harmful to the Commander-In-Chief in the midst of high-stakes international diplomacy," Clinton insisted. "Either answer does discredit to the letters' signatories."

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is likely to challenge Clinton, expressed his outrage on Facebook:

Vice President Biden, who's unlikely to run if Clinton does, is a longtime former member of the Senate and called the letter "beneath the dignity of an institution I revere."

The current officer holder, President Obama, hit back hard at Republicans Monday.

"It's somewhat ironic to see some members of Congress wanting to make common cause with the hardliners in Iran," Obama said. "It's an unusual coalition."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Emily Martinez