EDITORIAL: GOP senators need lessons in both civics and politics

It’s one thing for Republicans in Congress to invite an ally to criticize a potential nuclear deal with Iran, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did last week.

But it’s beyond the pale to write to the leaders of a potential enemy to sabotage the negotiations, as 47 GOP senators did Monday.

Does their enmity toward President Barack Obama run so deep that in hopes of embarrassing him and denying him a legacy, they’re willing to blow up very sensitive talks on a matter of national security?

Everyone wants to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. If diplomacy can delay the day of reckoning for a decade, that is far preferable than a military strike that could spark a wider war in the Middle East.

The “Dear Iran” letter organized by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., may not violate the Logan Act — the 217-year-old law that bans citizens from corresponding with foreign governments to influence policy without official permission — but it certainly isn’t helpful.

With the condescending tone of a high school textbook, it points out that treaties have to be ratified by a two-thirds vote of the Senate and argues that any deal not approved by Congress is a “mere executive agreement.”

The letter goes on to explain that presidents can only serve two terms and that Obama leaves office in January 2017, while senators don’t face term limits, and “most of us will remain in office well beyond then — perhaps decades.”

So, the senators assert, any nuclear weapons deal that Obama makes with Ayatollah Khamenei could be revoked by the next president “with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

We’re betting the mullahs probably already know that, and are well aware that most Republicans oppose the deal that is on the table.

It’s the Republican senators who signed the letter — including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and potential presidential candidates Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida — who could use a remedial civics class.

The Constitution gives the president broad authority to conduct foreign policy. The Senate’s “advise and consent” role covers formal treaties.

The potential deal on Iran’s nuclear weapons program is not a treaty. It is a multinational agreement that involves Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, as well as the United States and Iran.

Apparently, the senators and their consultants could use some lessons in politics as well. After Netanyahu’s speech to Congress last week, Republicans had some momentum on the Iran nuclear issue. With the letter, they frittered that away and raised even more questions about their fitness to govern.

Democrats are predictably appalled, but they also happen to be right. Sen. Barbara Boxer of California called the “bizarre, inappropriate letter” a desperate ploy to scuttle the talks.

Seven Republican senators had the good sense not to sign on.

“I don’t think that the ayatollah is going to be particularly convinced by a letter from members of the Senate, even one signed by a number of my distinguished and high-ranking colleagues,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Iranian officials said as much. So if the ayatollah is going to ignore the letter and the president is brushing it off, what was the point again?