Our View: Not their finest hour

Members of the U.S. Senate, like all Americans, have the right to speak and write their opinions. When they believe an executive branch policy or practice is harmful to U.S. interests, exercise of that right rises to a matter of obligation.

Both of Louisiana’s senators, David Vitter and Bill Cassidy, were among 47 signatories to an open letter advising Iranian leaders negotiations that would see that abandon nuclear weapons could lead to a flawed agreement, reversible when a new president takes office or if Congress disapproves.

The brainchild of Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, like Cassidy, a freshman, and like all 47 signees a Republican, has drawn expected criticism from the Obama administration, House and Senate Democrats, some GOP lawmakers and even our allies. The lesson in U.S. constitutional law, admittedly drawn and signed in haste, has also been questioned for the accuracy of the interpretation it contains.

Not to be outdone by Vitter or senators who – like himself – covet the GOP presidential nomination, Gov. Bobby Jindal has also publicly weighed in, supporting the letter and urging further support of its message. Some of the signers have since sought to distance their decisions, expressing mild regret for the action.

Neither Vitter nor Cassidy has done so.

“President Obama hasn’t been negotiating – he’s more interested in pretending to be friends with Iran than actually making concrete plans to stop their pursuit of a nuclear weapon,” Vitter said, in response to an inquiry by The Times. “We all want a peaceful path forward, but Iran has a proven history of working against world peace and lying while they pursue their nuclear weapons program. The Administration itself has already said that Congress will have to vote on this, and their misplaced anger is just a distraction from the bigger picture.”

Cassidy’s office notes the freshman lawmaker’s comments on the matter during an interview by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

“…If the American people felt better about the president’s foreign policy, perhaps we would not have sent the letter,” Cassidy said. “But if you look at polls and if you talk to members of Congress, we’re not quite sure the president has a strategy on Syria, or with ISIL, or many other areas. So it’s a lack of confidence with the president that makes Congress step forward and say ‘listen if this is a bad deal it will be revisited.’ So that’s also by the way, a statement to the president- that Congress wants to be engaged and we’re going to represent the views of the American people.”

Both statements evince more bristling at Obama than proof of concern for the well-being of nations and future generations of Americans. But the newly empowered Republican senate’s partisan slip is clearly showing, through a cloak so transparent as to be laughable.

A statement of disagreement with any number of executive branch concepts regarding the talks would be among the proper ways for Louisiana’s senators and their 47 cohorts to express their points of view. But such a statement must be directed to Obama, people in his administration or the American people themselves, and not the leadership of a government with which a negotiated settlement is being pursued.

In the past, Democratic members of the Legislative Branch – U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-California) among them – have spoken with foreign governments on policy matters, drawing criticism from Republicans and in some cases perhaps rightly so.

But written communication from a majority of the Senate on such sensitive matters takes such meddling to a new and unprecedented level. And while anti-Obama cheerleaders might applaud the decision by both of the Bayou State’s senators to sign on, or the words they have offered in support of it, in good conscience, as Americans, we cannot.

Their involvement in this affair reeks of the basest partisan gamesmanship imaginable.

While there are no signs that it will ever materialize, we nonetheless respectfully suggest that our two senators owe an apology for this ill-thought misadventure to the people who elected them, to the nation, its allies and to history itself.