- - Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Once upon a time every congressman on Capitol Hill would have put on his fighting clothes to punish someone who not only lied to them about a subject of great national import, but boasted that he lied — and now dares Congress to do something about it.

Alas, this is not your grandfather’s Congress. Partisan advantage drives everything now. Congress, which has become a low-energy institution, easily abides humiliation after humiliation by the president.

Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser at the White House, tells how he led the White House campaign to mislead — i.e., lie to — Congress and the public about the negotiations to reach President Obama’s nuclear deal with the mullahs in Iran. Mr. Rhodes on Monday night declined an invitation to testify to the House Oversight Committee.

Several senior senators, Republicans all, sent a letter to the White House urging the president to sack Mr. Rhodes, but there is small prospect of that. Mr. Rhodes is the messenger, and the message was the president’s. Why should he sack a man who did what he was told to do? The White House cited the usual “security concerns” when it told the senators that Mr. Rhodes would not answer their questions. The president never misses an opportunity to show his disdain for Congress.

Mr. Rhodes’ gleeful recitation of how he, at the president’s bidding, lied in answer to the widespread bipartisan concerns that Mr. Obama badly wanted an agreement to deal with Iran’s nuclear-weapons program, and wanted it so badly that he was making concession after concession to the mullahs.

The “spinning” — the preferred Washington euphemism for “lying” — was revealed in a long article in the Sunday magazine of The New York Times, and the Democrats in Congress have largely dismissed Mr. Rhodes’ lies as beneath their concern in a presidential election year despite the fact that it was they who were lied to along with their Republican colleagues.

David Samuels, the author of the article in The New York Times, explained that Mr. Obama wanted to eliminate concerns about what he had conceded to the mullahs as the way to eliminate tension between Tehran and Washington. This would enable the United States to abandon its alliances in the Middle East with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, and above all Israel. This is what Mr. Obama promised by his scheme to “lead from behind.”

The letter to Mr. Obama from the Republican senators — Mark Kirk of Illinois, chairman of the Senate subcommittee on national security and international trade and finance; John Cornyn of Texas, the Senate majority whip, and John Barrasso of Wyoming, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee — was couched in the usual high-minded language of Capitol Hill:

“We should all agree, for the greater good of our Republic and its citizens whom we represent, to engage in our debates in a respectful, honest and constructive manner.”

But it was a matter of more than respect and constructive manner, the senators said.

“Mr. Rhodes’ disrespectful, deceptive and destructive conduct has fallen appallingly short of this standard. Indeed, if he had conducted himself this way in a typical place of business outside Washington, where American taxpayers work, he surely would have been already fired, or asked to resign.”

All true, of course, but President Obama has learned, no doubt much to his surprise, that Congress will take any insult, any affront, any usurpation of congressional power and authority. Why should he have concluded that more lies would arouse Congress when lies had not aroused it earlier?

Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, the Republican chairman of the House oversight committee, says Mr. Rhodes “could be subpoenaed” to explain himself. Indeed he could. And if he is not, the further offense will be an offense by Congress.

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