In the Morning Jolt, Jim Geraghty proposes “the nuclear option” to stop Iran’s nuclear option: ending the filibuster in the Senate. He is right. Filibustering this debate would be a violation of the Senate’s most basic duties in order to further what is already a dodge of the Constitution.
Geraghty offers what he calls a “simple proposal.” It is simple in form, but quite powerful.
To stop Iran’s nukes, use our own nuclear option. Scrap the filibuster, pass a resolution declaring the Iran deal a treaty that requires Senate authorization, introduce the text of the Iran deal, and vote it down.
A Congressional resolution declaring this deal to be a treaty would be right and proper. For one thing, international law (unlike American law) does not distinguish between a deal of this kind and a formal treaty. The only distinction between those classes is our government’s, which Congress is free to modify at any time. The Senate has every right to pass a simple resolution on this subject, and such a resolution does not require the permission of the President.
Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution specifically limits the President’s power to enter into treaties to those with which a two-thirds majority of Senators consent. The Congress has allowed the Executive branch to operate with a great deal of leeway on this point in negotiating trade deals and other international agreements. Congress is not therefore obligated to continue to do so, nor to treat the President’s classification of the deal as binding. Congress may exert its authority to require the Executive branch to obtain its advice and consent at any time.
If any deal deserves to be treated as a formal treaty, it is surely this deal. For one thing, it is expansive in its effects. It is not merely a deal about Iran’s nuclear program, though that is a grave enough concern. The deal provides Iran with relief of a whole host of international and American sanctions touching heavy weapons, ballistic missiles, and international investment in its space program — a program of clear dual-use, as putting a guided missile into a specific orbit involves exactly the same technologies as putting that same guided missile in the middle of Manhattan.
Also, we have every reason to believe that Iran is going to use this deal to further and not abandon its nuclear ambitions. As Geraghty puts it:
Do you think Iran will honor their side of the agreement? Probably not, right? Even if they do, do you think Iran will attempt to build a nuke quickly when the deal expires? Certainly, right? Do you think that if Iran gets a nuke, they will use it? Pretty darn likely, right?
It is not as if Iran is working terribly hard to hide its intentions. The Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, just published a book over 400 pages long detailing his plans to “outwit the US” and destroy Israel and ethnically cleanse the Middle East of Jews. Iran has numerous options under this deal to cheat, avoid inspections, establish new sites that don’t come under the inspections agreement, and achieve a nuclear “sneakout” instead of a nuclear “breakout.” Our military option will be complicated by the deal’s provisions and especially the pending arms sales it permits.
The filibuster is an important tool for minorities that has largely served the country well over the decades. However, it would be a violation of Congress’ most basic duties if it allowed a minority to prevent the Senate from considering this deal and taking a stand on it. The American people oppose this deal by a 2-1 margin. The purpose of the legislative branch is to ensure that no binding laws, including treaties, come into being without the consent of the governed. There is no consent to be had on this treaty. The American people are dead set against it, and for good reasons. While the Senate was originally to be the Federal advocate of the states, since the 17th Amendment to the Constitution they are directly elected by the people and are therefore the peoples’ representatives.
The Senate cannot morally dodge their duty on a question so dire as this. If ending the filibuster — at least temporarily — is necessary to obtain a vote on this treaty, then it must be done.