By Dave Oedel
Georgia’s freshman U.S. Senator David Perdue gave his first major speech on the Senate floor on April 27, 2015, decrying President Barack Obama’s usurpation of presidential power as unconstitutional.
But then in the following days, Perdue repeatedly capitulated to the administration’s will on the bill that would lift financial sanctions against the Iranians in connection with some modification of Iran’s nuclear program. Perdue was one of only eight Republicans who voted against an amendment to the Iran-related legislation that, before lifting sanctions, would have required that the Iranians be certified as not directly supporting terrorism. Georgia’s other senator, Johnny Isakson, to the contrary, voted to require the no-terrorism certification before lifting sanctions.
Moreover, Perdue was one of only 12 Republican senators (albeit this time with Isakson) who voted not to declare the Iranian deal to be a treaty from the Senate’s perspective. Perdue did later vote with every senator except one to declare a more general congressional prerogative with respect to lifting the sanctions that Congress had already imposed. However, that was constitutionally non-controversial.
During the constitutional debates about the treaty clause in 1787, the framers of the Constitution were deeply concerned to ensure that potentially hostile foreign nations be watched carefully, and that the people and the states would have a strong role in endorsing or rejecting important deals negotiated by U.S. presidents with such foreign powers. The framers did that in part by giving the Senate a two-thirds super-majority vote over the adoption of proposed treaties, meaning in effect that one-third of the Senate could veto big deals with other nations. In recent decades, not only under President Obama, presidents have been reluctant to characterize much of anything as a treaty. They’re all “executive agreements” or some other euphemism, if you ask the presidents. That is constitutionally problematic.
Perdue made a flowery statement on April 27 about the growing imbalance of constitutional power imperializing the executive branch and diminishing Congress. However, Perdue’s subsequent votes on releasing billions of dollars to the Iranians and endorsing their nuclear ambitions — without securing a certification that the Iranians do not directly terrorize U.S. citizens, and ceding senatorial power to review this important deal at the super-majority two-thirds level indicated by the Constitution — suggest that Perdue’s words are not matching his actions.
Perdue ran as a conservative Republican, but his recent votes have put him with the administration and Democrats more than with most of his Republican colleagues. In that context, it’s a startling beginning to Perdue’s tenure in the Senate. Back home in Middle Georgia, where Perdue made extravagant claims of allegiance during his campaign, ordinary citizens are waiting for a report on why he is voting in ways that don’t seem to line up with his rhetoric.