Paul Waldman notes that at this point in the Obama presidency, Republicans aren't even pretending that the office of President of the United States of America even matters anymore. Some 47 GOP Senators signed on to a letter directly to Iran's leadership, threatening to undermine any nuclear deal, and to tell the world that Barack Obama no longer determines foreign policy in the US, but the GOP-controlled Senate.
It’s one thing to criticize the administration’s actions, or try to impede them through the legislative process. But to directly communicate with a foreign power in order to undermine ongoing negotiations? That is appalling. And just imagine what those same Republicans would have said if Democratic senators had tried such a thing when George W. Bush was president.
The only direct precedent I can think of for this occurred in 1968, when as a presidential candidate Richard Nixon secretly communicated with the government of South Vietnam in an attempt to scuttle peace negotiations the Johnson administration was engaged in. It worked: those negotiations failed, and the war dragged on for another seven years. Many people are convinced that what Nixon did was an act of treason; at the very least it was a clear violation of the Logan Act, which prohibits American citizens from communicating with foreign governments to conduct their own foreign policy.
This move by Republicans is not quite at that level. As Dan Drezner wrote, “I don’t think an open letter from members of the legislative branch quite rises to Logan Act violations, but if there’s ever a trolling amendment to the Logan Act, this would qualify,” and at least it’s out in the open. But it makes clear that they believe that when they disagree with an administration policy, they can act as though Barack Obama isn’t even the president of the United States.
And it isn’t just in foreign affairs. In an op-ed last week in the Lexington Herald-Leader, Mitch McConnell urged states to refuse to comply with proposed rules on greenhouse gas emissions from the Environmental Protection Agency. Never mind that agency regulations like these have the force of law, and the Supreme Court has upheld the EPA’s responsibility under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon emissions — if you don’t like the law, just act as though it doesn’t apply to you. “I can’t recall a majority leader calling on states to disobey the law,” said Barbara Boxer, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, “and I’ve been here almost 24 years.”
At this point the massive (and generally racist) disrespect for the President has become direct disrespect for the office itself. Republicans have decided, probably correctly, that there's no price that the American people will make them pay when it comes to treating President Obama like he's invisible, irrelevant, and unnecessary to the country.
After all, we rewarded these fools with the Senate when two-thirds of us decided that voting was no longer necessary last November. Why shouldn't Republicans act like Obama doesn't matter? He certainly doesn't matter to the 85% plus of Americans that either stayed home or voted for the Republicans in 2014.
Meanwhile, the White House isn't standing idly by.
Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said the senators were trying to “essentially throw sand in the gears here” in a way that went beyond the role envisioned for Congress in foreign policy by the authors of the Constitution. He said the White House wanted to send a “forceful” rebuttal to the letter because it seemed intent on torpedoing the talks.
“Writing a letter like this that appeals to the hard-liners in Iran is frankly just the latest in a strategy, a partisan strategy, to undermine the president’s ability to conduct foreign policy and advance our national interests around the world,” Mr. Earnest said. He linked it to the decision by Speaker John A. Boehner to invite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel without consulting the White House to denounce a possible Iran deal in a speech to Congress last week.
But again, until voters decide to punish this awful behavior, it will continue.