Calling it a "good case of selective outrage," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told CNN the flap over an open letter to Iran's leaders signed by 47 Senate Republicans is just a distraction from a bad deal the White House plans to sign over that country's nuclear program.
The letter's signers, including McConnell, have come under fire — even from some in their own party — for interfering with negotiations.
But McConnell, appearing Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union,"
said there is nothing unprecedented about members of Congress expressing themselves about important matters at home or abroad.
"I remember reading about Sen. Robert Bird when he was the majority leader flying to Moscow during the negotiations over the Salt II treaty, explaining to the Russians the Senate's role in treaty ratification," McConnell said. "And [now Secretary of State] John Kerry when he was senator flew to Managua and met with the communist dictator there, Daniel Ortega, and accused the Reagan administration of engaging in terrorism."
President Barack Obama is about to make "a very bad deal," McConnell said, and doesn't want Congress to be involved at all.
"We're worried about it. We don't think he ought to make a bad deal with one of the worst regimes in the world," McConnell said.
Some of the criticism of the letter has come from the fact it was written by a freshman senator, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and that it was signed hurriedly as senators were trying to leave Washington ahead of a snowstorm.
McConnell said he doesn't regret signing the letter, which explains to Iran's leaders that no deal signed by the White House is binding unless ratified by the Senate.
McConnell said Sunday that if the deal is made, he will bring up the bipartisan Corker-Menendez proposal that would require the agreement to get congressional approval.
If no deal is made, McConnell said the "appropriate next step" would be to bring up a bill by Republican Sen. Mark Kirk and Democrat Sen. Bob Menendez that would impose more sanctions on Iran.
"The president has said we're going to reach a deal or not reach a deal with one of the worst regimes in the world by March 24th that will probably allow them to keep their nuclear infrastructure in place," McConnell said. "This is a big, important issue not to be trivialized by the discussion that goes on back and forth by members of Congress about this hugely important issue."
A number of senators who signed the bill, including Kirk and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, have received criticism at home. McConnell said he is not worried members who help elect him as majority leader will be harmed by signing.
McConnell also was asked about a human trafficking bill that has been stymied by Democrats over abortion language in the legislation.
"The Democrats are acting the same way in the minority as they did in the majority. They don't like to vote," McConnell said.
He said Democrats voted the bill out the Judiciary Committee in December with the same language.
He said confirmation of attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch's confirmation hearings could be held up if the Senate doesn't take up the human trafficking bill.
"I had hoped to turn to her next week, but if we can't finish the trafficking bill, she will be put off again, McConnell said.
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