This week, the House will hold votes related to the nuclear agreement with Iran. I have read the publicly available portions of the agreement in full. Consistent with my oath to support and defend the Constitution, I must oppose this nuclear deal.
There are at least two major constitutional defects with the nuclear deal.
First, President Barack Obama refuses to recognize the agreement as a treaty, subject to approval under the Constitution’s Treaty Clause (Art. II, Sec. 2, Cl. 2). Under the Treaty Clause, the president “shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur.” To avoid this higher threshold for approval, the Obama administration asserts that the nuclear deal is merely an “executive agreement” that binds only this president.
Even if we accept this dubious claim, there is a second constitutional defect that compels me to reject the nuclear deal. Under the Take Care Clause (Art. II, Sec. 3, Cl. 5), the president must “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” As I discuss below, the president clearly fails to fulfill this obligation.
In May, both houses of Congress passed, and the president signed into law, H.R. 1191, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 (Review Act). The Review Act provides a process for congressional oversight of any nuclear deal, so that Congress can determine whether the nuclear-related sanctions Congress has imposed on Iran should be lifted. I have supported sanctions on Iran directed at preventing the country from obtaining or using a nuclear weapon (in contrast to sanctions targeting non-nuclear-related civilian activities), and it’s likely that negotiations would not have taken place had those sanctions not been enacted.
The Review Act requires the president to submit to Congress the text of any nuclear deal reached with Iran. Submission of the nuclear deal triggers a period of review for Congress to analyze the agreement—a period during which the president is prohibited from taking any actions to lift statutory sanctions.
The precise language of the Review Act recognizes that a comprehensive nuclear deal includes many separate components, and that for members of Congress to accurately assess the merits of the agreement, Congress must have access to all portions of the agreement. Thus, the Review Act carefully defines “agreement” to include “annexes, appendices, codicils, side agreements, implementing materials, documents, and guidance, technical or other understandings, and any related agreements.”
We now know that there are at least two side agreements between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that are integral to the nuclear deal but nevertheless will not be shared with Congress. These side agreements cover how a primary Iranian military site will be inspected for nuclear activity and how Iran will resolve outstanding issues on possible military dimensions of its nuclear program. Remarkably, it was only through a chance meeting between two members of Congress and the IAEA that the existence of these secret agreements came to light. The Obama administration apparently preferred to keep Congress in the dark, and even now the administration refuses to provide the side agreements to Congress. Indeed, Secretary of State John Kerry claims that even the president’s negotiating team doesn’t have access to these side agreements.
The Obama administration’s secrecy surrounding these side agreements casts serious doubts on its other claims about the nuclear deal, and it makes clear that the president has not been working with Congress in good faith. The president signed the Review Act into law knowing full well that it requires him to provide all side agreements to Congress. The administration should not have negotiated a final nuclear deal that allows portions of the agreement to be withheld from Congress, because the president knows that his agreeing to such a nuclear deal violates U.S. law and his duty under the Constitution’s Take Care Clause.
This violation of law with respect to the submission of the agreement has further implications under the Review Act. The 30- to 60-day congressional review period for the nuclear deal isn’t triggered until the president submits the *entire* agreement to Congress. If the nuclear deal hasn’t been submitted in full—because side agreements remain hidden—then the review period hasn’t even begun.
But the existence of secret agreements with the IAEA has deeper implications still. The available text of the nuclear deal states that nuclear, missile, and arms restrictions on Iran are to be lifted after certain periods of time (between five and ten years depending on the source and type) “or when the IAEA has reached the Broader Conclusion that all nuclear material in Iran remains in peaceful activities, whichever is earlier.” In other words, at the discretion of the IAEA, these restrictions may be lifted significantly earlier than the milestone dates specified in the agreement, and the exact method by which the IAEA will reach this conclusion can’t be known to Congress or even the Obama administration, because the side agreements remain secret.
Finally, even if we set aside the constitutional defects and related consequences discussed above, it is unconscionable that the Obama administration would negotiate a final agreement that does not secure the release of the three American hostages held in Iran—Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati, and Jason Rezaian—or information on the whereabouts of a former FBI agent abducted in Iran, Robert Levinson. The nuclear deal provides Iran access to billions of dollars in unfrozen assets and the almost immediate removal of major U.S. and international economic sanctions on Iran’s financial and energy sectors, followed by the termination of most nuclear-related sanctions on Iran in just a few years. If Iran is unwilling to return American hostages to their families as part of this agreement, then we cannot trust that Iran will act in good faith as sanctions are lifted.
I support peaceful negotiations to prevent Iran from obtaining or using a nuclear weapon, and I kept an open mind about this agreement as it was being negotiated. It’s regrettable that the president has acted disingenuously in his interactions with Congress and continues to treat the Constitution with contempt. Despite the Obama administration’s false rhetoric, the choice here is not between this nuclear deal and war. A better agreement that complies with the Constitution and secures long-lasting peace is possible. (See “Constitutional Defects With the Iran Nuclear Deal” originally posted HERE)