White House Sends Saturday Night Letter to Senator Corker

March 15th, 2015
in econ_news

Econintersect:  The Huffington Post has obtained and posted a letter from White House Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough, to Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.   The HuffPo called the letter a "warning to the senate".   Another interpretation, considerably less sensational, has been obtained by Econintersect and is discussed below.  The letter from The White House was in response to a letter from Sen. Corker sent on Thursday 12 March 2015.


Follow up:

The letter from Sen. Corker expressed concern that members of the administration had made statements that the President could leave Congress out of a deal with Iran. Specifically Corker said:


The specific concern was raised by the senator that the administration might be considering "going to the United Nations Security Council without coming to Congress first".

The short answer to Senator Corker's question appears to be: "Yes, the U.N. Security Council will vote on any proposed deal before Congress gets to debate and vote."

Is this confrontational? We turn to Jack Goldsmith, who has the following bio brief:

Jack Goldsmith is the Henry L. Shattuck Professor at Harvard Law School, a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and co-founder of Lawfareblog.com. He teaches and writes about national security law, presidential power, cybersecurity, international law, internet law, foreign relations law, and conflict of laws. Before coming to Harvard, Professor Goldsmith served as Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel from 2003-2004, and Special Counsel to the Department of Defense from 2002-2003. Follow him on Twitter @JackLGoldsmith. His personal website can be found at jackgoldsmith.org. Full bio »

In an note posted at lawfareblog.org, he labeled the White House resonse as "good". Here is Goldsmith's summary of the McDonough letter:

The Executive branch has extensively briefed Congress on the Iran negotiations.

Congress will have a role to play. It will vote on any comprehensive deal with Iran, and only Congress can "terminate" existing sanctions (i.e. kill them permanently).

Congress's statutory sanctions will "remain in place" even as the administration "suspend[s] some of them using waivers" that Congress included in the sanctions laws.

The White House strongly opposes the bill that Corker introduced that would require the Iran deal to be sent to Congress for review and approval. The White House thinks this bill, if it became a law, would likely have a "profoundly negative impact" on ongoing negotiations. The President pledges to veto it.

The deal the President is negotiating with Iran is like many other non-binding agreements negotiated by the President in similar contexts without congressional approval.

The Security Council will have "a role to play in any deal with Iran." That role will involve passing a resolution "to register its support for any deal and increase its international legitimacy" (and will presumably involve lifting UN sanctions).

Once the deal is reached, the administration expects a "robust debate" in Congress and knows that Congress will "make its own determinations about how to respond to the deal." But the administration asks for time to finish the negotiations before Congress weighs in.

Goldsmith has an extended discussion which covers four points:

  • The President plans to go to the U.N. Security Council before going to the Senate for debate and vote.
  • The McDonough letter properly explains why the president is acting lawfully.
  • Congress has explicitly approved the negotiation powers the president is exercising.
  • McDonough did not address a matter of concern about whether the Security Council will in any way restrict a future president's ability to reimpose sanctions.

The two letters and the Goldsmith discussion can be accessed through links listed under Sources below.


  • Letter to The President (Bob Corker, Chairman Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, 12 March 2015)

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