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Cotton's Iran letter turns tables on Obama

| Saturday, March 21, 2015, 9:20 p.m.

HAGERSTOWN, Md.

Dodging raindrops and balancing bottled water and a bunch of power bars under one arm, a young man returned to his car at a Sheetz gas pump along old U.S. 40 in this western Maryland town, sandwiched between Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

The local public radio station blared through the open car door, reporting on the letter to Iran from 47 Senate Republicans. Adjusting his seat, he said to a traveling companion: “Good for them.”

“Wait, who?” his friend asked.

“The guys who sent the letter to Iran, that Cotton guy,” he replied. “For all we know, the president will issue an executive order and give Iran whatever they want.”

Then he shut the car's door and drove east toward the U.S. 522 overpass.

An Obama-Biden sticker was plastered to his rear bumper.

The “Cotton guy” that the 20-something referred to is Arkansas' freshman U.S. senator, who went from a fairly unknown lawmaker to Washington's most talked about man since the political class's last meltdown over a perceived slight to President Obama. (By most calculations, that occurred just a week earlier, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to a joint session of Congress without Obama's blessing.)

Tom Cotton gained attention and the Washington Beltway crowd's wrath for a letter he penned and persuaded 46 fellow senators to sign, warning Iran that a nuclear deal with the president requires congressional approval.

Contrary to popular hysteria, he did not “send” it to Iran; it was an open letter posted on his Senate website.

A lot of Americans beyond the Beltway, both supporters and opponents of the president, are weary of Obama's heavy-handed executive orders, his nonexistent relationship with both political parties on the Hill, his spiteful relationship with Netanyahu, and no one standing up to him on any of the important stuff that folks think needs deliberation.

Issues such as immigration, gun control, climate change, labor regulations and oil-gas exploration aren't debated anymore in Washington. The president just issues an executive order and bypasses Congress — something many Americans, including legislators from his own party, fear he will do on a deal with Iran.

Governing requires boldness balanced with willing compromise; both are needed to initiate and pass legislation. Yet both are in great deficit in Washington, causing great longing for leadership in the country's interior.

Cotton is no stranger to poking the bear, on either side. He took heat from some conservatives when he backed Obama's plan to enforce the red line against the Assad regime, which Obama then backed away from; at the time, Cotton said Assad was a tool of Tehran and leaving him in place would encourage Iran to enrich uranium.

As soon as Cotton's letter was posted online, the Washington media and Democrats railed against every senator who signed it, blanketing them with bad press that could impact their Senate elections or their presidential aspirations next year.

What the Washington echo chamber doesn't understand is that Americans don't want a deal with Iran that leaves them feeling insecure. It also doesn't understand that Cotton's letter set back the White House in terms of believing that its steamroller-governing by executive order can work outside of D.C. when it comes to security matters.

If you think the White House wasn't set back, consider the coordinated appearances by its surrogates and liberal elites on all media platforms, using words like “unprecedented,” “outrageous” and — best of all — “treasonous.”

As they say in the South, a hit dog hollers.

The genius of Cotton is that he met Obama in his own arena, with his own tactic.

He did not say there would be no deal with Iran. He did, however, plainly lay out a U.S. civics lesson in five short paragraphs: Any nuclear agreement with Obama that isn't approved by Congress can be revoked “with the stroke of a pen” by the next president or changed by Congress itself.

Cheeky move? Probably.

It's also probably not the last time we will hear from this Army vet of the Iraq war and Harvard-educated scholar, who sees a dangerous world in front of him and believes part of his job is to keep America not only secure but less vulnerable.

Salena Zito covers politics for Trib Total Media (szito@tribweb.com).

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