By now you probably know about Hamid Abutalebi. He’s the would-be diplomat whom Iran wanted to send to the United Nations – but whom Congress blocked, on a strongly bipartisan vote, because he was among the terrorists who helped take Americans into captivity in the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979.
Today, President Barack Obama signed Congress’ bill into law – and then immediately appended a signing statement informing the world he would not enforce the law he’d just signed.
“Acts of espionage and terrorism against the United States and our allies are unquestionably problems of the utmost gravity, and I share the Congress’s concern that individuals who have engaged in such activity may use the cover of diplomacy to gain access to our Nation,” Obama wrote.
“Nevertheless, as President [George H.W.] Bush also observed, ‘curtailing by statute my constitutional discretion to receive or reject ambassadors is neither a permissible nor a practical solution.’ I shall therefore continue to treat section 407, as originally enacted and as amended by S. 2195, as advisory in circumstances in which it would interfere with the exercise of this discretion.”
In other words, Obama is saying he intends to treat the bill, which bars Abutalebi from entering the U.S., as a piece of advice and nothing more, using as a pretense a Bush I precedent that emanated from a squabble with Congress over dictating to the President a job the Constitution already empowers him with carrying out.
The bill barring Abutalebi from setting foot on U.S. soil was authored by Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and received strong support from both side of the aisle. Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) didn’t hesitate to use language so strongly condemning Abutalebi’s nomination that Cruz himself might as well have spoken the same words.
Iran’s foreign minister responded to the vote by calling Congress a pack of “radicals,” reaffirming in the process that Congress had made the right call from the start.
With Obama’s ambivalent action today, Abutalebi appears to be headed, illegally, to the U.S. as the Iranian ambassador to the UN. But it’s doubtful at this point that he’ll be deported.