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Obama’s hide-the-ball trick not funny

US Democratic senators voted for robust debate on the Iran deal, declining to be bulldozed by the president

For decades now, U.S. District Judge William Young has taught Massachusetts law students trial advocacy. In evidence classes not ordinarily known for being side-splitting, Young does a hilarious imitation of a lawyer trying to obtain a favorable verdict by sneaking questionable evidence to a jury, physically hiding it from opposing counsel and the presiding judge.

With the Obama White House forced to concede defeat in its effort to prevent Congress from reviewing the nuclear deal it claims to have reached with Iran, Young’s rendition of courtroom Hide-The-Ball is called to mind. The White House’s performance, however, has been considerably less funny.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s 19-0 vote to secure Congress’s right to review any Iranian deal represents a win for Congress over hubris. For many months, the president and his adherents have belittled those who called for congressional review in terms both ugly and demagogic, variously accusing them of favoring war and trying to “sabotage diplomacy.” That the president was forced to agree to congressional review was a function of mathematics: so many Democratic senators were poised to abandon him that his long-threatened presidential veto would have been overridden, and he knew it.

Simply put, too many Democratic senators declined to be bulldozed by the president on Iran. This was in part because of their concern about the White House’s disregard for Congress as an institution, and in part because of the nagging, growing concern that when it comes to the Middle East, the Obama team just may not know what it is doing.

It isn’t only the grave problems with the “framework” of the deal that the Obama administration has wanted to avoid getting reviewed by Congress. It is the fact that in the days since it was announced, Iranian leaders have been quoted disavowing key provisions of the framework, directly contradicting the administration’s very premise that there is a deal, let alone that it is a good one. Despite administration reassurances that under the framework the International Atomic Energy Agency “will have regular access to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities,” not only has Iran continually stonewalled the IAEA and provided no reason to believe the stonewalling will stop, but its defense minister announced last week that no inspections would be permitted at Iran’s military sites where, of course, nuclear activity would be expected to occur.

Despite the published terms of the deal — by which Iran had purportedly agreed to limit itself to so-called “first generation centrifuges” and would remove its more advanced centrifuges — an Iranian news agency reported that Iran’s foreign minister said it would begin using its most advanced centrifuges as soon as a nuclear deal with the West was signed.

And despite Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement that the West would provide sanctions relief “in phases,” Iran’s president has publicly stated that Iran “will not sign any agreements unless on the first day of the implementation of the deal all economic sanctions are totally lifted on the same day.”

The White House’s performance on Iran has been marred not only by ad hominem attacks on the motives of the deal’s critics, but by sly disingenuousness. In announcing the framework two weeks ago, the president told the American people that he “welcome[d]” what he termed “robust debate.” Robust debate, however, is precisely what he and his team tried so hard to prevent, lobbying right up until the last minute to block Congress from reviewing the deal so that he could ensure that any meaningful debate would be squelched.

The unanimous vote of the Senate panel rejecting the White House’s Hide-The-Ball gambit is not only a healthy reaffirmation of the role of Congress. It means that the much-promised “robust debate” on this deal can be had, and not stymied.

This piece was published previously in The Boston Herald

About the Author
Jeff Robbins, a former United States Delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in the Clinton Administration, is an attorney in Boston, Massachusetts