So I learned something new yesterday that I thought I’d share with you. Remember the stupid Tom Cotton letter? You know, the condescending one he addressed to The Islamic Public Of Iran? You know, the one that started with,
"It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system…".
The one that then goes on to say,
"Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement. The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”
Well, in a delicious twist of irony, it appears that nothing Tom Cotton said in his dumbass letter is true. Nothing, except maybe the spelling of his name in his signature. The president can negotiate and bind this deal without a single member of congress weighing in, and it cannot be undone by the next president. So if you’re keeping score, that would be the trifecta of wrong on the part of the whackadoodle freshman senator from Arkansas.
I learned that there are three kinds of international agreements. From the article;
"…..these forms of international agreements include: “treaties,” which receive the approval of two-thirds or more of the Senate; “congressional-executive agreements,” which receive the authorization or approval of a majority of both houses of Congress; and “sole executive agreements,” which are concluded by the President on his own constitutional authority without formal congressional or senatorial participation."
Naturally, I did some more research since one source is never going to cut it for me. I found some background information on FindLaw. The constitution doesn’t exactly make a distinction between treaties and agreements (of either flavor), but Thomas Jefferson did broach the subject in a report he prepared for George Washington while he (Jefferson) was Secretary Of State. Here are his words;
"Considering the value of the interests we have at stake and considering the smallness of difference between foreign and native tonnage on French vessels alone, it might perhaps be thought advisable to make the sacrifice asked, and especially if it can be so done as to give no title to other the most favored nations to claim it. If the act should put French vessels on the footing of those of natives, and declare it to be in consideration of the favors granted us by the arrets of December 1787, and December 7, 1788 (and perhaps this would satisfy them), no nation could then demand the same favor without offering an equivalent compensation. It might strengthen, too, the tenure by which those arrets are held, which must be precarious so long as they are gratuitous.
It is desirable in many instances to exchange mutual advantages by legislative acts rather than by treaty, because the former, though understood to be in consideration of each other, and therefore greatly respected, yet when they become too inconvenient can be dropped at the will of either party; whereas stipulations by treaty are forever irrevocable but by joint consent, let a change of circumstances render them ever so burdensome."
In the first fifty years of the US’s independence, sixty treaties were made compared to twenty-seven executive agreements. When WWII started, the count was at eight hundred treaties and twelve hundred executive agreements. For the period between 1940 and 1989, there were seven hundred and fifty-nine treaties and thirteen thousand and sixteen executive agreements. In 1989, the US was party to eight hundred and ninety treaties and five thousand one hundred and seventeen executive agreements made by Saint Ronny of Republican Mythology.
I know what you’re thinking at this point; those are just numbers so what kind of executive agreements are we talking about? Good question. The peace agreement with Vietnam in 1973 was an executive agreement. The "Destroyers for Bases Agreement of 1940" was an executive agreement that FDR signed. He gave the UK fifty overage destroyers in exchange for 99-year leases on certain British naval bases in the Atlantic. The Status Of Forces Agreement with Iraq that George W Bush made didn’t require a congressional vote, so that was an executive agreement. So these aren’t insignificant agreements.
I found a myriad of court cases that uphold the authority of executive agreements. You can find those pretty easily if you’re interested in doing some more research. The Supreme Court has upheld the validity of executive agreements several times, starting with United States v Belmont in 1937. There’s Dames & Moore v. Regan, and Weinberger v. Rossi, and several more similar SCOTUS decisions. Those are just a few of many, but you get the point.
So to recap:
- Executive agreements have been made without the approval of congress, starting with our first president.
- These executive agreements have been pretty substantial agreements to do everything from establishing peace, to trading arms, to defining the length of a US occupation.
- The Supreme Court has been upholding the authority of these agreements over and over again for decades.
- Tom Cotton and his forty-six republican peers in congress are complete idiots, who should avail themselves of the large staff they each possess to do the type of research I managed to do with just me, my computer, and my tired eyes.
This stupid letter of Tim Cotton’s is going to do the opposite of what he intended for it to do. Instead of derailing these talks with Iran and humiliating President Obama, he has strengthened the resolve of both our president and the Iranians who have been publicly mocking Cotton. And he is once and for all going to prove the "three dimensional chess" credit that Obama has been getting getting for six years now.