CNN's Cuomo to Cotton: GOP Senators' Letter is 'Undermining' Obama

March 10th, 2015 5:57 PM

CNN's Chris Cuomo's consistent liberal bias emerged yet again on Tuesday's New Day as he interviewed Senator Tom Cotton. Cuomo confronted the Arkansas politician over the open letter to Iran that he and 46 of his Republican colleagues from the Senate signed: "Is this letter really about explaining the Constitution [to Iranian leaders], or is it an overt move to undermine the President?" The anchor later asserted, "By sending this are undermining his [Obama's] authority. Isn't that the truth?" [video below]

Cuomo launched out of the gate in going after the Republican freshman at the beginning of the segment: "Please, tell us how you think this letter helps the situation." Senator Cotton responded, in part, that "many of Iran's leaders...don't understand the U.S. Constitution....this is ultimately about stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon today, tomorrow; ten years from now; fifteen years from now." The CNN journalist followed up by asking his "overt move to undermine the President" question. The guest stood by his position in his reply:

SEN. TOM COTTON, (R), ARKANSAS: No, this letter is about stopping Iran from getting a nuclear deal. Iran's leaders need to understand that under our constitution, Congress plays a critical role in approving international agreements. If Congress does not approve an agreement, the agreement will not necessarily have lasting effect. Future Congresses – or, for that matter, a future president can change them. And the deal that is emerging would allow Iran to develop a path towards a nuclear weapon, and that's not acceptable, because it's too dangerous to the United States, and too dangerous to the world.

The anchor was not satisfied with this answer, however. He first played up how Senator Cotton made a constitutional "error" in his letter, and continued by rephrasing his "undermine" question to the Republican:

CHRIS CUOMO: Putting the – the politics aside for one second, you say this letter is about the Constitution. There is an error in this letter that goes to the larger point about the President being the person who really drives the ball when it comes to foreign deals. You say in here that the Congress needs to ratify by two-thirds vote. On your own Senate website, it recognizes the constitutional reality that, in fact, the Congress does not ratify treaties. It gives advice and consent to the President through the votes – which you know how they work, two-thirds – certain deals is a majority. And the President ratifies or chooses not to ratify treaties.

Now, this isn't a constitutional law class. This is about who drives the game, and it is the President. And by sending this letter, instead of sending it to him, you are undermining his authority. Isn't that the truth?

COTTON: No. We're actually giving the negotiators more authority, because the Iranian leaders need to know that any deal has to be approved by Congress if it's going to have lasting effect. And if it's not, it won't be accepted by Congress. So we are the constitutional backstop that our Founding Fathers created to ensure just this situation – that you wouldn't have a single president committing the United States to a binding, lasting deal with the world's leading sponsor of state terrorism to get nuclear weapons – a regime that has been killing Americans for 35 years, and extending its regional dominance to five capitals in the Middle East all without a nuclear weapon. So imagine what they would do with a nuclear weapon.

Cuomo hammered this train of thought for the remainder of the interview:

CUOMO: ...You talk about precedent. Ninety percent of all agreements done with foreign entities since 1939 have been executive agreements. The history is long. The – the power of the President in foreign affairs is clear.

Let me ask you this: you're a decorated veteran. You know the realities of war. If you don't negotiate and get a deal done right now, what is plan B? What is your alternative?

COTTON: As Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu said last week, the alternative to a bad deal is a better deal. And one way to make sure that we get a better deal is to stand strong; to keep the credible use of force on the table; and to drive a harder bargain.

CUOMO: To drive a harder bargain – but that's what's going on right now...when a deal is ongoing, having somebody step in and say, 'By the way, the guy you're negotiating with, he doesn't have the power; we do' – not only is that not true, but how does that help the negotiation? How does this do anything but hinder the efforts that, we all agree, are vital to U.S. security interests?

COTTON: Well, it is true: the simple matter of constitutional law – that the Congress only has the power to approve international agreements to make them having lasting and binding effect. President Obama himself has overturned executive agreements that his predecessors made with other foreign leaders. And certainly – certainly, there should be congressional approval when you're talking about a nuclear weapons deal with the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism.

CUOMO: ...[A]gain, this isn't a gotcha session, Senator; this is very important stuff – this letter was an unprecedented move in this context. The Senate doesn't ratify treaties. The President does. He's the one holding the power. You also suggest in this letter, 'Hey, this deal would only be an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei' – which is a loaded statement – and also, somewhat inaccurate, because you have the P-5 plus one signing onto this. This is among major powers in the world. It's not just about the U.S. and Iran. Do you believe you're playing politics here with a situation that really doesn't benefit from it?

COTTON: No – nor do I believe this letter is unprecedented. The only thing unprecedented is an American president negotiating a nuclear weapons deal with the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism without seeking congressional approval at the end of that deal.

CUOMO: There is no question that what you're talking about going on with Iran is unusual, because usually, it would be the focus of a treaty. But deals with Iran have a lot of precedence; have never involved Congress; and I can't find another letter like this ever. Members of Congress often visit foreign nations that are controversial – sometimes with, sometimes without the White House consent – but not a letter like this.

And that takes me to you, Senator: you're a decorated veteran, but you're a freshman there. Why are you the one drafting this letter? What do you think of the idea that you're, kind of, being set up in this situation to take the fall?

COTTON: Well, I'm simply speaking out for the people I represent in Arkansas, and for seventy percent of Americans, who don't believe that the deal that the President is negotiating is going to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. I'm very pleased that I have so many of my colleagues join me, of all different tenures, and we welcome more people to join us – Republicans and Democrats alike. For that matter, I'd welcome the presidential candidates to join us. We have four potential candidates in the U.S. Senate on the letter. I'd welcome even Hillary Clinton to join us, because I suspect she might have reservations about this ill-fated nuclear deal with Iran, as well.

CUOMO: But you – look, how does this help the bipartisan situation? You know the politics that are playing out around you. You didn't get seven of your own senators. One of those you didn't get is Bob Corker. He's the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. This isn't authored by Mitch McConnell for a reason. They're trying to work to form a coalition. This does nothing but blow up efforts toward a coalition. That's why Democrats wouldn't sign on. So, how do you see this as progress? It's not going to help you with the Democrats. It's not going to help make a deal with Iran, and it only hurts the President. Where's the benefit?

COTTON: Well, 47 senators of all tenures in the U.S. Senate recognize that we cannot allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon, and that it is critical that Congress approve any deal, and that they will not accept any deal that Congress doesn't approve.

Again, it's an open letter. I welcome others to join us. Many have expressed the exact sentiments that we wrote in that letter – that Congress must approve any deal, even if they didn't want to sign it, for whatever reason.

CUOMO: But you do realize that Congress does not have to approve the deal. The President can do it himself. There's plenty of precedent for that. And the deal on the table is one clear goal: how long can we keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon? What's the best we can do to stop it?...Do you not see the goal of the negotiations as being just that?

COTTON: No. The deal on the table, as the President himself has announced, would pave the path to a bomb. The President himself, last week, said the deal would have a sunset clause for as little as ten years. His national security adviser said Iran would be allowed to have massive uranium enrichment programs, which is a critical component to a nuclear weapons program. We're not talking about just stopping Iran from getting a bomb today or tomorrow, but ten years and fifteen years from now. Whatever the final terms of the deal, those two terms alone are too dangerous for the world to accept – which is why the Congress would not approve those terms of any deal.

CUOMO: Well, Senator Cotton, we'll see what the impact of this letter is. So far, it hasn't proved helpful for the President or with the Iranians, based on their immediate response. But we'll be following this very closely. Thank you for coming on New Day and answering for this – appreciate it.

COTTON: Thank you.