Congressional Republicans are trying to obstruct President Barack Obama from concluding a nuclear agreement with Iran, but the only tangible result of their efforts has been to impede serious debate about the legitimate issues arising from the potential deal. The latest GOP gambit, an open letter to Iran’s leaders disparaging any accord not approved by Congress, prompted predictable blasts of rhetoric from the White House, the Senate caucuses and even the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, but not a word of discussion about what the Republicans say worries them: whether the terms being offered to Iran by the Obama administration are in the United States’ interest.

Members of Congress, from both parties, are frustrated by the administration’s announced intention to implement any deal with Iran without votes in either chamber by using waiver authority to suspend sanctions that were imposed by legislation. Though Obama has the legal authority to proceed in this way, in so doing he risks — as the letter pointed out — leaving a tenuous legacy that the next president or Congress could seek to undo.

That said, it’s not clear how the letter, authored by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, and signed by 46 other Republican senators, advances the opposition’s cause. Notably, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, the Foreign Relations Committee chairman who has introduced legislation to force a congressional vote on any agreement with Iran, did not sign the letter. Nor is the document likely to affect the decision of Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, on whether to endorse a deal.

Republicans had an opportunity to focus attention on weaknesses in the emerging accord with Iran and mobilize bipartisan pressure on the administration to demand better terms. Instead they have engaged in grandstanding tactics that have alienated potential supporters while obscuring critical issues. Their antics are making it easier rather than harder for Obama to proceed unilaterally.

The Washington Post (March 10)