Bad Journalism

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Thank God for C-SPAN.
Because of C-SPAN’s coverage of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s meeting where it voted on a manager’s amendment to S615-Iran Nuclear Agreement Act of 2015, we can know that the legislation basically gives Congress power that it already has. If not for C-SPAN that allows us to see the meeting unfiltered by bad journalism, we would think that the committee voted 19-0 to give Congress a seat at the negotiating table along with Secretary of State John Kerry on the Iranian nuclear program. We would think the opening paragraph of a New York Times article on the bill is true.
In an April 14, 2015 article, Jonathan Weisman and Peter Baker report:
“The Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved legislation granting Congress a voice in negotiations on the Iran nuclear accord, sending the once-controversial legislation to the full Senate after President Obama withdrew his opposition rather than face a bipartisan rebuke.”
There is nothing in the legislation that gives Congress “a voice in negotiations.” It only gives Congress the power of review and oversight. The Congress cannot stop an agreement from going forward. The bill as amended says specifically: “This section does not require a vote by Congress for the agreement to commence.” (32 lines 16-17) The bill says further:
“even though the agreement may commence because the sanctions regime was imposed by Congress and only Congress can permanently modify or eliminate that regime, it is critically important that Congress have the opportunity, in an orderly and deliberate manner, to consider and, as appropriate, take action affecting the statutory sanctions regime imposed by Congress.”
In short, I say again: Congress gave itself a power that it already has. It gives Congress no role in the negotiations. The Iranian nuclear agreement is not a treaty, thus it does not require advice and consent from the Senate. The bill prohibits the president from doing anything to remove statutory sanctions, but it does not prohibit him from removing sanctions imposed by the executive and he is free to support a resolution to end international sanctions against Iran in the United Nations.
Since the bill does not give a GOP controlled Congress a way to derail the negotiations, there is no reason for President Obama to oppose it. This bill is not a bipartisan rebuke. The larger question is: why do so many journalists writing and commenting about this compromise want to write of it as some kind of loss for President Obama?
Congress may very well dislike the agreement, but the only recourse it has is to refuse to lift statutory sanctions. The bill also requires that the president keep Congress informed on whether or not Iran is holding up its end of the bargain so that Congress may consider whether or not to re- impose sanctions.
Before this amendment, American citizens who want to see diplomacy succeed called congress members to insist that they vote against this bill. Because of his support of the original version of this bill, a petition against Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) becoming leader of the Democrats in the senate circulated on-line and gathered many thousands of signatures. The amended version of S615 is a victory for peace people who pressured a GOP controlled Congress.
At least 47 GOP senators – those who signed a letter authored by Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran – have proved themselves untrustworthy when it comes to this agreement. Now, we cannot trust the group think produced by bad journalism that wants to make finding a political consensus on a negotiated settlement with Iran a zero-sum game, a contest between Congress and the president.
The idea that the legislation as it passed out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is a “rebuke” to the president is the wrong way to think about this. A good agreement, one that will allow Congress to lift statutory sanctions against Iran, would be a victory for everyone.

Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder of and author of Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation.