The Senate saw a rare compromise this week when Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a bill to give Congress 52 days to weigh in and review the bill. Glenn couldn’t tell if this meant the Senate simply surrendered their power, or if it is a step in the right direction. Senator Ben Sasse joined the radio program Thursday to discuss the compromise and what continued negotiations with Iran could mean for the United States.
Below is a rush transcript of this segment
GLENN: So we have Ben Sasse on with us. We wanted to get somebody on that we really trusted and we wanted to talk a little about this — this rare comprise on Iran. And Iran is changing all of the — changing all of the parameters of this deal that we supposedly had. And the — the Senate made a rare comprise. And we wanted to see if this works in our favor or not. As I read last night, it seems like the Senate once again surrendered their power. And Stu said the exact opposite. So we thought we would get Ben Sasse’s read. Hello, Ben, how are you?
BEN: Glenn, good to be with you. Can I pretend I’m a politician and split the difference?
PAT: First of all, Ben, we should ask because you’ve been there two months now. Have you turned yet? Like “The Walking Dead”. Have you turned? Are you a Senate walker now?
BEN: No. I’m still not a politician.
GLENN: Good. Glad to hear it.
BEN: Yeah. Thanks for having me on.
PAT: So you would say this is in the middle then, or do you like it?
BEN: Let’s talk about it like this. The macro on having a nuclear Iran is a horrible idea. And for 36 years, both Republicans and Democrats in this country all agreed to that. And the Obama administration has pivoted from the historic goal of preventing a nuclear Iran to trying to manage the arrival of nuclear proliferation across the Middle East. So it’s dreadful what’s happening at the big picture level.
This specific bill that was passed out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously, is a small, small deal. But it’s a small step in the right direction. But it’s not big enough to change the course of how big the problems are. But this Senate comprise is more good than bad, but it’s small.
STU: Because it just gives us a chance to essentially veto this deal.
GLENN: Okay. But I thought the Senate has that right. You have the right.
BEN: No. Well, if it were being submitted by the Obama administration as if we had three separate, but equal branches of government that check and balance one another in a constitutional system — they’ve got a pen, and they’ve got a phone, and executive unilateralism means to the Obama administration that they can just make up anything that they want. So they’re trying to strike this deal with Iran, going completely around the Congress and going straight to the UN.
And so a treaty would have to be submitted to us. They’ve never framed this as a treaty, even though it’s far more important than many things that go by treaty. For example, the last 23 civilian nuclear power agreements around the world — I think the number is 23 — have been submitted to the Senate for approval, under treaty-like structures.
In this case, they were just going to ignore the Congress. So Corker has been trying to do — Bob Corker, the senator from Tennessee is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee — he’s been trying to get a piece of legislation passed called the Congressional Review Act, which at least gives us the ability to express satisfaction or dissatisfaction with what the Obama administration is trying to cook as a truly bad deal.
But here’s why it is still a step in the right direction, though it’s tiny. It will at least allow us to get access to knowledge for the American people of what’s in the deal. The Obama administration has been trying to cut a deal with Tehran, where they and Tehran have rival talking points out in the world. And the people of the United States don’t even know what’s in it. The people of America have a right to know what’s in this deal. It’s going to be bad. But we need to know what’s in there. The way you get some transparency into it is by the Congress knowing.
GLENN: So here’s how I read this, Ben, why are we negotiating with the president in the first place? Why aren’t you guys just going and saying, you can’t do this? You can’t do this without us?
BEN: Well, because the administration largely owns the media and they go out and tell a story that the United States has struck a deal. They want to use this as the occasion to wave all sanctions. How is that possible? That’s possible because there was a flaw in some legislation that was passed many years ago in the way that the sanctions are being imposed on Iran.
Let’s be clear about who Iran is. They’re the world’s largest state sponsor of terror. They’re funding Shia militias among at least five of their neighbors, trying to destabilize regimes. They’re horrible actors. But there is one thing worse than Iran right now. And that is the short-term threat of Sunni jihadist terrorists that are building non-state organizations like ISIS or ISIL. So it’s essentially al-Qaeda rebranded.
So in the middle of the frenzy of ISIL capturing most of eastern Syria and lots of northwestern Iraq, many people in the Middle East are looking for some form of stability. When the Shia militias come in, they’re sometimes a less bad option than the non-state actors. The Iranians are under huge sanctions. That’s a good thing. They have about $130 billion of offshore revenues right now, and almost 90 percent of those funds are frozen. But the Russians, in particular, would like to end those sanction regimes because their economy is failing. And they would like to sell armaments to Iran. So in the midst of this, instead of leading, the Obama administration — instead of leading and ratcheting up of sanctions, the Obama administration is trying to lead the capitulation to Tehranian HEP demands.
STU: And this is more to than just being able to review this deal, Ben. This is also — if I’m understanding it correctly. You give them a month to look at the deal and review it. They also have a chance to block Obama from removing the sanctions, which is fundamental to the deal, and Iran won’t agree to it without that. So in effect, you have with this bill veto on the Iranian deal, don’t you?
BEN: So a couple of things. Glenn’s point. You and I have been on the same side of this. Now I hate to go against you because you’re my partner in this. So we don’t want Glenn to ever be right.
STU: Of course.
BEN: Here’s what’s being turned on its head. Under the constitutional arrangement, the president is supposed to negotiate the best deal you can for treaties. Then you submit it to the Senate. It it needs a two-thirds vote. Under this new world, you would essentially have a resolution of approval or disapproval. And given the Senate rules, it would take about 60 votes to say, no, we think this is terrible.
But well before we get to that point, because we can get lost here in process in a hurry, we would at least be able to, as representatives of the people, be able to get access to knowledge of what’s in this deal.
The Obama administration has been claiming this is verifiable. As if the IAEA has typically been right in the past, when they’ve tried to dig in and find out things like the drift to a nuclear North Korea. We had a 36-year consensus in this country that we should never have a nuclear Iran. And the president continually posits this false choice between, we have to accept whatever the worst deal is that the Iranians will let us have, or we have to go to a immediate war. That’s nonsense. When you talk to Nebraskans, they know it’s nonsense. And your listeners know it’s nonsense. There’s a third choice, which you negotiate from a position of strength, where the Iranians know we mean business and we don’t intend to allow a nuclear Iran. And our allies in the region don’t want a nuclear Iran. And lo and behold, we’d be having a totally different discussion than the way we negotiate from this posture of weakness.
PAT: Isn’t it possible, though, Ben that this whole process is moot anyway because the Iranians are changing the deal radically. Kerry was asked, what happened if they change the deal after you announced that the framework has been agreed upon, and he just said, well, that’s not going to happen. And it already has. It’s already happened. And so, in fact, they’ve cut the time in half from ten years to five.
STU: They want 4,000 extra centrifuges.
PAT: So the deal should be off anyway. Shouldn’t it?
BEN: It should. So let’s just name two or three of those variables you named. There are about six or seven things that are going wrong in the Kerry/Obama negotiation with the Iranians. But let’s take your centrifuges point. The right number of centrifuges for Iran to have is zero. There should be no uranium enrichment in the world’s largest state sponsor of terror. Your listeners should be asking themselves, these people have been funding Shia militias across the Middle East and North Africa that have intentionally tried to target US troops. Why would we believe that when they have access to nuclear material that they wouldn’t ultimately also share it with terror organizations? So the right number of centrifuges is zero. We know they have around 19,000. The Obama administration said at the beginning that they were going to negotiate to get them down to about 1,000. They’ve now pivoted to something more like 6,000. The right number should be zero.
You can make the same argument about the way any time anyplace inspections should work. The Iranians want to set up a regime of cat and mouse, like what was the case with Saddam Hussein in 2003, and the Kerry response to this is, well, we would have a snapback, that if they ever didn’t keep their commitments under this agreement, all of the sanctions will snap back into place.
Well, a couple of problems with that. First is, they have $130 billion offshore right now. And if they get sanctions relief, they’ll get access to most of that $130 billion. They’ve been spending a lot of their money to fund terrorist operations, beyond their borders. What do you think they’ll spend the new $130 billion on? And number two, if these sanction regimes were ever going to snap back into place, you’d need groups like the Russians and the French and the Chinese to all cooperate with that. And it would be a bureaucratic, litigated process. You would know we’re in a bad place in a negotiation right now when the French are trying to hold out for harder requirements in the US.
PAT: That’s for sure.
GLENN: Senator, we appreciate your time. We know you’re on a busy schedule. I would like to ask you to look into this Judicial Watch report about ISIS being on our border. There’s conflicting reports on it. I happen to believe the Judicial Watch people that we have some serious issues going on our border with ISIS on both sides of our border. If you could, when you find out details, report back to us. We’d like to know if it’s real or not.
BEN: Thanks, I spend a lot time in a classified setting. We’re trying to learn about some of these issues. I would love to report back to you. So thanks for having me on.
GLENN: Thank you very much. Appreciate it. Ben Sasse from Nebraska. Back in just a second.