By David Oedel
Last week, the Macon Monitor called attention to Middle Georgia’s freshman U.S. Senator David Perdue’s votes favoring the Obama administration’s preferred approach to dealing with the Iranians. Iran is driving to lift U.S. economic sanctions while ensuring continued development of Iranian nuclear capabilities. The Monitor pointed out that Perdue’s position seemed to be at odds with his first major speech from the Senate floor only days before. In that speech, Perdue railed at Obama’s unconstitutional usurpation of power.
In response to the Monitor’s coverage, Perdue’s press secretary Mark Bednar pointed out to the Monitor this week that the Senator has offered a defense of his votes. In short, Perdue now declares that he’s “proud” of his support for the administration’s preferred law because it “prevents President Obama from having a totally free hand when negotiating a nuclear deal.”
Perdue made no mention of the fact that the administration already had to accede to congressional authority in lifting the sanctions, because sanctions had already been passed by Congress as law years ago. Obama already had conceded that his administration needed congressional approval to rescind the sanctions on a permanent basis. His hand was not “totally free” to begin with.
Perdue also made no mention of why Congress could not ask for a preliminary determination that Iran is not supporting terrorism against the U.S. or its citizens. Nor did Perdue mention why he voted in effect to say that the Senate could not constitutionally put any deal up for a vote as a treaty, meaning that one-third of the senators could effectively veto the deal. Instead, Perdue voted that the Senate would need two-thirds of its members, not one-third, to override a presidential veto of any regular legislation contradicting any deal that the administration negotiates.
In effect, Perdue voted with a small minority of centrist establishment Republicans led by Mitch McConnell, along with almost all Democrats, to cede more power to the administration despite deep-rooted constitutional powers held by Congress and the Senate.
Perdue and the Senate’s Republican leadership had at least two options that were unexplored. The Senate leadership could have unilaterally treated any deal as a treaty, assuming the Senate could amass all Republican senators’ votes plus those of two Democratic senators to secure a vote of 60 on a cloture motion. Even if Perdue and the Senate leadership could not get over cloture, the Republican leadership could have put the treaty deal up for consideration on the Senate floor by suspending the cloture rule, as the Democrats did on judicial nominations in 2014. Under either scenario, only one-third of the Senate could have killed the deal as a treaty requiring two-thirds support of the Senate under the Constitution. And if the Senate could not get the votes for either option, at least it could have forced the opponents of senatorial prerogatives to display their true allegiance, formal commitments of use in future political campaigns.
Senator Perdue seems unmindful of the exasperation of Georgia voters with freshman U.S. senators who have drifted too far to the left for Georgia voters’ comfort. Perhaps Perdue should take some counsel from Wyche Fowler and Max Cleland, two former U.S. Senators from Georgia who served single terms because they moved left, out of step with Georgia’s voters. So far, Perdue seems to be making the same mistakes made by Fowler and Cleland — and risking their fates as one-termers.