Editorial January 16, 2015



Congress and the Iran Negotiations

“Sort of like those movies where big guys wearing black suits and dark glasses stand behind a mob debt collector, cracking their knuckles…”

The new 114th Congress seems determined to increase sanctions on Iran and would do so without having much concern for the impact such legislation would have on the ongoing negotiations between Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

Iran has been significantly crippled by sanctions initiated by Congress directing the President to impose those sanctions.

While Iran may be more willing to negotiate if lifting sanctions is part of the goal, the first question to be asked is if Congress can do this since the State Department is an Executive Branch agency and the role of Congress is to fund it not necessarily run it. Policy decisions in appropriation bills are against House rules so, perhaps, this is Congress’ way of directing policy indirectly. Another perspective some believe is that the Republican Majority so opposes anything Obama, and with the 2016 presidential elections coming up, thwarting any foreign policy successes is the perspective for electing the next president who is certainly ‘not another Obama; look at how his Iran deal went south’.

Now in the majority, such anti-Iranian hawks as Ileana Ros-Lecithin (R-FL), the Diaz-Balart brothers (R-FL-Lauderdale / Miami), and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) can gear up to pump out those anti-Iranian resolutions on a regular basis as has been the case in the past.

But, to what end?

The glass-half-empty view is that Congress is messing with the President’s effort with Iran. The glass-half-full view is of Congress as the mad dog right behind Kerry thereby adding an urgency to come to a negotiated decision. Sort of like those movies where big guys wearing black suits and dark glasses stand behind a mob debt collector, cracking their knuckles to remind the other side of the outcome if they don’t participate.

Republican conservative hawks should back off on sanctions and let the negotiation process move forward unhampered since there is already enough complications on the ground there; The US Naval Institute (USNI) recently published the story (Proceedings January 2015) of the circumstances under which Kerry and Zarif are operating; “U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met Wednesday in Geneva for intensive discussions ahead of a new round of nuclear negotiations set to begin Jan. 15. Kerry and Zarif expressed hope that they could accelerate the negotiation process. However, U.S. lawmakers are moving ahead with a plan to impose additional sanctions on Iran, despite concerns it could derail negotiations.” And it could do so by making it look like Congress is calling the shots, not Kerry.

The USNI article went further to add Iran’s indictment of U.S.-Iranian journalist, Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post’s Tehran bureau chief to the mix of subjects to be considered in the negotiations. Add to that Iran’s help in fighting ISIS but without including the country in the multi-country meets on how to deal with ISIS, enough is going on without Congress poking its nose in the matters.


A Reminder – Celebrating out tenth year TheWeekinCongress.com explores its archives and takes you back over the years to see how and what Congress was all about and how many issues taken up in the past remain issues today. This week we look back to 2004.

Littoral Combat Ship Poorly Explained

The Navy took a beating in the FY 2015 Defense Appropriations bill when they lost funding for 20 of the 52 Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) it asked for. The reason for the loss seems to have most to do with the Navy itself.

LCS, left. Photo Courtesy Wikimedia

LCS, left. Photo Courtesy Wikimedia

Writer  Gregory V Cox explained in his article Lessons Learned from the LCS that the problems the Navy has had began with three competing visions of what the vessels are to do and then morphed into insights that the ship, designed for forward operations “…is not expected to be survivable in high-intensity combat. As Cox put it, “Nothing is inherently wrong with these visions, but the Navy was either not aggressive enough or not convincing enough to clearly articulate the chosen LCS vision.” Common to all visions is that the LCS would operate as a launching pad for excursions inland but is not in itself a combat ship.

But there is little the Navy can do to better pitch a higher number of the LCS because the vessel’s survivability is in question which brings with it concerns about the vessel’s ability to be properly armed (modality) and speed.

The answer, Cox suggests, is another ship, the Small Surface Combatant (SSC), that would give the Navy capability without giving up the survivability, maneuvering ability, and speed. Covering all of those important bases may not be achieved but, eventually, we will see a bid for SSC funding and it is an important tool as the world conflicts have moved from large theater operations to smaller incursions.


Quotable on the Issues

DHS Funding and Immigration

“Republicans had seen an upcoming battle over funding for the Department of Homeland Security — which, in addition to its anti-terrorism duties, also enforces immigration laws — as an opportunity to force a confrontation with President Barack Obama over his move to limit deportations… Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, told CNN after the Paris attack Wednesday that the party should rethink those plans — or at least make sure they’re narrowly tailored. ‘I hope that we could challenge the executive action of the President in a mature fashion,’ he said. ‘I’ve never been for shutting down Homeland Security.’… Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, agreed with Graham, telling CNN: ‘I think we have to rifle shot these things, rather than meat axe. And so, we’ll be talking about best ways to address it without shutting down the government.’ Rep. Peter King, meanwhile, said the Paris attack should be a ‘wake-up call,’ and warned conservatives to make sure they don’t harm the department’s broader functions. ‘If they want to target immigration to retaliate against the President, that’s fine,’ the New York Republican told reporters on the hill. ‘But we have to make it clear that Homeland Security — at a time we saw this massive attack in Paris — that we can’t be cutting funding or programs which would protect Americans from a terrorist attack.’”  CNN, 1/7/2015


“Some Republicans see political danger for the party if its only messages on immigration are about deporting people, particularly for candidates competing for the growing Hispanic vote, which will be critical in the 2016 presidential contest.

“Overall, though, the party was united in its opposition to Mr. Obama’s policies.

“This executive overreach is an affront to the rule of law and to the Constitution itself,” House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) said on the floor Wednesday.” Wall Street Journal – Jan 2015

Viewing Political Corruption More Broadly

 By Lee H. Hamilton

“the Founders…saw that a focus on private concerns could lead to neglect of the common good.”



Earlier this year, veteran political writer Thomas Edsall reported an eyebrow-raising fact about Americans’ views toward government. Polling by Gallup, he noted, found that the proportion of Americans who believed that corruption is “widespread” in government had risen from 59 percent in 2006 to 79 percent in 2013. “In other words,” Edsall wrote, “we were cynical already, but now we’re in overdrive.”

Given the blanket coverage devoted to public officials charged with selling their influence, this shouldn’t be surprising. Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife were convicted last month of violating public corruption laws. Former mayors Ray Nagin of New Orleans and Kwame Kilpatrick of Detroit were good for months of headlines. So were Republican Rep. Rick Renzi, convicted last year on influence-peddling charges, and Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who pled guilty to charges of misusing campaign funds.

If you add state and local officials who cross the line, it might seem that we’re awash in corruption. Yet as political scientist Larry Sabato told The New York Times, that’s more perception than reality. “I’ve studied American political corruption throughout the 19th and 20th centuries,” he said, “and, if anything, corruption was much more common in much of those centuries than today.”

Nor have the numbers over the past couple of decades risen. In 1994, according to the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, 1,165 people were charged in public-corruption cases, of whom 969 were convicted. Last year, 1,134 were charged, of whom 1,037 were convicted.

Corruption is hardly a negligible issue. Americans rightly have very little tolerance for public officials who are on the take. Officials who violate the law in this regard should face criminal prosecution and incarceration.

As late as the second half of the 1800s, American society was alarmed by the notion that private individuals might seek to influence government on their own or others’ behalf. “If any of the great corporations of the country were to hire adventurers… to procure the passage of a general law with a view to the promotion of their private interests, the moral sense of every right-minded man would instinctively denounce the employer and the employed as steeped in corruption,” the Supreme Court declared in 1874.

We have another word for “adventurers” these days. We call them lobbyists.

Americans remain uncomfortable with “corruption” as our forebears viewed it. A hefty majority believe that government is run on behalf of a few big interests. And Congress, whose ethics committees have not been rigorous in looking for misconduct that brings discredit on their chambers, has contributed to that view.

I would hardly contend that all who seek to promote their private interests are corrupt. But I do think the Founders had a valuable insight when they saw that a focus on private concerns could lead to neglect of the common good.

I have the uneasy feeling that too many politicians are self-absorbed, failing to put the country first, and using their office to promote their private interests. Our Founders had very firm ideas about the importance to the nation of “virtue” in a public official — and they were thinking expansively about the basic standards of public accountability.

Maybe it’s time we looked to them for guidance, and not think of corruption only in the narrow sense of violations of specific laws or precepts, but more broadly in terms of failing to pursue the common good.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.