On Monday, 47 Republican senators sent a letter to Iran that offered a few (somewhat condescending) tips on constitutional law and a not-so-subtle warning about how senators often stick around far longer than presidents.
It did not go over too well. The resulting statements, tweets, and speeches provide a crash course in all the tools you have at your disposal if you happen to be angry about something in Washington.
Here’s a brief tour.
The woeful cry against partisanship relayed through a press secretary.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Monday, “I would describe this letter as the continuation of a partisan strategy to undermine the President’s ability to conduct foreign policy and advance our national security interests around the globe.”
Give a floor speech — and make sure to use the word unprecedented.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid gave a floor speech on Monday, and called the letter “juvenile.” “The judgment of my Republican colleagues seems to be clouded by their abhorrence of President Obama,” he said. “The Republican senators sent a letter to the Iranian leadership aimed at sabotaging these negotiations,” Reid said. “It’s unprecedented for one political party to directly intervene in an international negotiation with the sole goal of embarrassing the president.”
“I am appalled … “
If you don’t have any creative ideas about how to express anger at your political opponents, saying that you are appalled is the most dependable course of action. Senator Dianne Feinstein chose this route with the Iran letter.
The “I would never.”
A variation on “I am appalled.” A politician shows they are appalled by trying to put themselves in the shoes of the person they are mad at, and finding it is impossible. Senator Debbie Stabenow went on the Senate floor on Tuesday and said — “her voice shaking with rage,” according to the New York Times — “I never would have sent a letter to Saddam Hussein.”
The statement that finds fault with your opponent’s intelligence.
Although often deployed by people in D.C., this style of madsplaining is also a favorite of foreign governments angry about American politics.
Senator Tom Cotton, who led the letter-writing campaign, sent a tweet to Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif with a translated letter written in Farsi.
Zarif, who received multiple degrees in the U.S., made sure to send his response to Cotton’s letter, in which he called it “propaganda,” to the senator in English.
Zarif also had some thoughts on Cotton’s use of the Constitution: “it seems that the authors not only do not understand international law, but are not fully cognizant of the nuances of their own Constitution when it comes to presidential powers in the conduct of foreign policy.”
Jack Goldsmith, a former Bush administration lawyer, wrote a blog post taking issue with Cotton’s statement that the Senate ratifies treaties (it doesn’t). He concluded that perhaps it isn’t a big deal, “But in a letter purporting to teach a constitutional lesson, the error is embarrassing.”
The statement that verbally conveys that you are shaking your head at the rest of your party.
Seven Republican senators did not sign the Iran letter and have spoken to the press about why they think their colleagues are the worst. Senator Susan Collins, well known as one of the more moderate voices in Congress, told Politico, “It’s more appropriate for members of the Senate to give advice to the president, to Secretary Kerry and to the negotiators,” Collins said. “I don’t think that the ayatollah is going to be particularly convinced by a letter from members of the Senate, even one signed by a number of my distinguished and high ranking colleagues.”
This strategy has been previously deployed by Republican senators during shutdowns and threatened shutdowns.
The talking points that connect the current rage epidemic to the nearest election cycle.
The Democratic National Committee released talking points about the Iran letter. As fate demands, they mention the 2016 presidential race.
Republicans in the Senate, including presidential hopefuls Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Lindsey Graham signed a letter to the leaders of Iran warning them that if they sign a nuclear deal with President Obama it won’t necessarily last past his administration. The questions everyone should be asking these presidential hopefuls is do they support these kinds of tactics that undermine the President’s ability to advance our national interests around the world, and would they support these kinds of tactics from a Democratic Senate if they were sitting in the Oval Office.
The nostalgic reverie on how politics used to be.
Vice-President Joe Biden spoke about the letter yesterday, saying that the Senate hadn’t done things like that when he was in it. “In 36 years in the United States Senate, I cannot recall another instance in which senators wrote directly to advise another country — much less a longtime foreign adversary — that the president does not have the constitutional authority to reach a meaningful understanding with them.”
This form of political anger was first deployed minutes after the U.S. Constitution was ratified.
Insinuating that those you disagree with aren’t living up to the standards set by the Founding Fathers.
A slightly different riff than the nostalgic statement. Instead of wishing that the old days would return, you fault fellow politicians for failing to live up to previous leaders. Hillary Clinton attempted this maneuver during a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.
But the recent letter from Republican senators was out of step with the best traditions of American leadership. And one has to ask, what was the purpose of this letter? There appear to be two logical answers. 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. Either answer does discredit to the letters’ signatories.