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Opinion

Republicans are playing with fire

By hosting a foreign leader and writing a letter to Tehran to spite the White House, Republicans are not just sabotaging the American political process; they’re wading into dangerous territory, says DW's Michael Knigge.

You have to hand it to them. Whenever you think Congressional Republican obstructionism has reached its ultimate peak, the so called Grand Old Party proves you wrong again.

Since Barack Obama took office in 2009 it happened time and time again. From the get-go, Republicans not only opposed, but tried to undermine practically every initiative put forward by the Obama administration. Closing of the Guantanamo prison camp – blocked. Health care reform – blocked. Climate change legislation – blocked. Immigration reform – blocked. Restoring relations with Cuba – blocked. Negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran – blocked.

To be clear, it is not only perfectly legitimate, but essential for the political opposition in a democracy to challenge and even try to thwart the ruling party's initiatives if necessary and possible (even though advancing your own ideas is also not forbidden). It is also to be expected, that this political infighting sometimes gets nasty and that it is never appreciated by the governing party.

Government shutdown

Deutsche Welle Michael Knigge

Michael Knigge reports on transatlantic relations

Unfortunately, the GOP's machinations go far beyond what can be considered acceptable and appropriate opposition. Shutting down the US federal government, like they did in 2013 to try to defund Obama's reviled health care reform, is a prime example for this kind of behavior.

In their defense, it could be argued that the Republican Party back then only ruled one chamber, not the entire Congress. They could do little to push their own political agenda. That's why all they could do was to obstruct the Obama administration by whatever means possible to prevent the worst.

But since January 6 of this year that line of argument is gone. On that day Republicans took full control of both the Senate and the House. Party leaders promised to use their newly gained power productively. What they did, however, was double-down on their obstructionism. With Mitch McConnell at the helm in the Senate not much more could probably be expected. It was McConnell, after all, who answered when asked about his view of his job in 2010: "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."

Delegitimize Obama

While Congressional Republicans failed to get Obama out of the White House after four years, the goal now apparently is to delegitimize and humiliate the president at all costs. That is the message sent by the unprecedented double affront of having the Israeli prime minister blast Obama's Iran negotiations in a speech before Congress followed by the Republican letter to Tehran - the very foreign government the White House is negotiating with - doing the same thing.

This is not just outrageous and spites all political tradition and etiquette. It is also dangerous. By going beyond President Obama's back to not only interact with foreign governments, but with the explicit goal of sabotaging the president's Iran policy, the Republicans are playing with fire.

Slippery slope

They may claim that their goal is to prevent a bad nuclear deal. But the unprecedented act of circumventing and humiliating a sitting president twice within days on a crucial foreign policy issue could be understood by the extreme right of the US Conservative movement as implicit confirmation of their long-held view that President Obama is an illegitimate president. Feeding the many conspiracy theorists who still believe that nonsense is irresponsible. It leads not just the Republican Party, but the US political system down a slippery slope.

Unfortunately we should expect not less, but more of this. The presidential campaign 2016 has not even fully started.

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