McConnell defends letter to Iran, downplays criticism on CNN's "State of the Union"

03/15/2015 02:39 PM

Calling the fervor surrounding a letter from 47 Senate Republicans to the Iranian government “selective outrage” and “a bit of a manufactured controversy,” U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell defended the communiqué as an assertion of Congress’ role in hammering out a nuclear deal with Iran during CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday.

McConnell and his GOP colleagues, including potential presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, have faced pointed criticism after sending the letter to Iranian leaders Monday.

In it, Senate Republicans said they would consider an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program “as nothing more than an executive agreement between President (Barack) Obama and Ayatollah (Ali) Khamenei” without congressional approval.

But the Kentucky senator said in his interview with “State of the Union” guest host Dana Bash that any proposed resolution should come before Congress to prevent “a bad deal with one of the worst regimes in the world.”

“All of this is a distraction away from the point here: The president has said we’re either going to reach a deal or not reach a deal with one of the worst regimes in the world by March 24 that will probably allow them to keep their nuclear infrastructure in place,” McConnell said.

“This is a big, important issue not to be sort of trivialized by the discussion that goes on back and forth among members of Congress about this hugely important issue.”

McConnell said “at least 10 Democrats” in the Senate would back GOP efforts to bring any Iranian nuclear deal before Congress, but the Iranian letter drew swift rebukes from all corners.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest called the letter “just the latest in an ongoing strategy, a partisan strategy, to undermine the president’s ability to conduct foreign policy,” according to The New York Times. In Tehran, Khamenei dismissed the letter as “a sign of the decay of political ethics in the American system” and “part of (American) ploys and tricks,” according to a report by United Press International. A retired Army general said newly elected U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., showed “a gross breach of discipline” in drafting the letter and labeled the signers “mutinous” in a report by The Washington Post.

Bash read McConnell an except from an editorial by Michael Gerson, former President George W. Bush’s speechwriter who said the letter had “all the gravity and deliberation of a blog posting” and “raises questions about the Republican majority’s capacity to govern.”

McConnell, though, didn’t back down.

“We will either be voting on a bill that would require the deal to come to Congress — the president says he would veto that — or if there is no deal we’ll be voting on a bill that says the sanctions need to be ratcheted up,” he said. “You know, a number of supporters of the president have said that the choice here is between this deal and war. That’s not the choice. The choice is between this deal and tougher sanctions.”

The Senate majority leader also addressed the confirmation of U.S. attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch, which has stalled as Democrats accused Republicans of tacking anti-abortion language onto a human trafficking bill that has wide bipartisan support.

McConnell, however, countered that the wording in question was in place when the legislation unanimously cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee last month. “Democrats,” he said, “are acting the same way in the minority as they did in the majority: They don’t like to vote.”

“This is boilerplate language that’s been in the law for almost 40 years that they all voted for three months ago in another bill,” he said. “We are not going to be able to finish the trafficking bill until this gets resolved, and this will have an impact on the timing of considering the new attorney general.

“Now I had hoped to turn to her next week, but if we can’t finish the trafficking bill she will put off again.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.


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