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Washington — Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, blasted 47 Republican senators who sent a letter to Iranian leaders warning that a future president could revoke any agreement on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, invoking a legendary Michigan Republican.

On the Senate floor, Stabenow invoked the late Sen. Arthur Vandenberg, R-Mich., who had disagreed with much of President Franklin Roosevelt’s foreign policy, but said Congress had to back the White House in a 1945 address. Vandenberg didn’t send letters to the emperor of Japan or Adolph Hitler, she noted. He said that “politics must stop at the water’s edge.”

“He disagreed with the president’s policies related to Germany. He did not send a letter to the chancellor of the Third Reich expressing his disagreements with the president of the United States,” Stabenow said, her voice rising with a poster featuring longtime isolationist Vandenberg behind her.

“We can and should and must disagree with the president... but when war holds in the balance and specifically when nuclear war hangs in the balance should members of the United States Senate be in the position of publicly undermining the president of the United States to our enemies. I don’t believe Sen. Vandenberg would have become pen pals with a group of extremists whose stated goal is death to America.”

Members of Congress have criticized the Obama administration for not disclosing more details about the ongoing talks with Iran and U.S. allies that seek to contain Iraq’s nuclear research and development efforts. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week the proposed deal would “pave” the path to Iran developing a nuclear weapon.

But the Obama administration says without talks — and allowing Iran to pursue civilian nuclear energy — that U.S. allies would drop their sanctions on Iran. A lack of a deal could mean no inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities, the administration argues.

Stabenow said the letter was a mistake. “It is shocking, dangerous and deeply troubling to me that 47 members of this body decided to throw away 70 years of wisdom to stand on the side of the ayatollahs and the most extreme voices in Iran.”

Stabenow noted that she was one of about two dozen senators to vote against a use of force resolution against Iraq in 2003. “I spoke out publicly about my concerns of that war but I never would have sent a letter to Saddam Hussein undermining the president before that war happened,” Stabenow said.

Republicans and some Democrats want Obama to agree to submit any deal with Iran to Congress for approval, but the administration hasn’t agreed. The Constitution requires any treaty to be adopted with the advice and consent of the Senate.

Stabenow said everyone in Congress agrees that Iran must not obtain a nuclear weapon. “This is even more reason why this is not the time or place to score political points against the president of the opposite party. This is deadly serious,” Stabenow said.

One of the main rooms in the U.S. Capitol is named for Vandenberg, who was angered by Roosevelt’s failure to tell Congress about plans for a postwar alliance. Vandenberg, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., “called for unity when it comes to foreign policy — and his admonition that politics should stop at the water’s edge has largely guided us.”

DShepardson@detroitnews.com

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