If Monday’s letter from 47 Republican U.S. senators to “leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran” left you gobsmacked, you’re not alone.

The effort to derail by correspondence a potential nuclear deal between the United States and Iran is without precedent. Never before has the majority party of the Senate intervened without invitation in a foreign policy matter so brazenly and publicly, attempting to kneecap President Obama and his negotiating team just as they appear to be close to reaching an agreement.

Shockingly, the letter was spearheaded by a freshman who has been on the job only 62 days: Sen. Tom Cotton, a tea party conservative from Arkansas. At 37, Cotton is the youngest member of the Senate; he previously served a single, undistinguished term in the House of Representatives.

Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton

Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton authored a letter to Iran

Flickr.com/Gage Skidmore

But his youth and inexperience didn’t stop his GOP colleagues from signing on to his scheme. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz all put their names on the dotted line. Only seven of their Republican colleagues (Lamar Alexander, Bob Corker, Dan Coats, Thad Chochran, Susan Collins, Jeff Flake and Lisa Murkowski) demurred.

Cotton’s condescending excuse for the gambit was that he needed to explain the U.S. Constitution to Iranian leaders who might not understand it.  In a public response, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif “expressed astonishment that some members of US Congress find it appropriate to write to leaders of another country against their own president and administration.

“[Zarif] pointed out that from reading the open letter, it seems that the authors not only do not understand international law, but are not fully cognizant of the nuances of their own Constitution when it comes to presidential powers in the conduct of foreign policy.” Zarif further called the letter a “propaganda ploy” with “no legal value.”

Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate minority leader, rebuked his colleagues for “undermining our commander in chief while empowering the ayatollahs.”

Vice President Joe Biden, himself a former longtime senator, called the letter “beneath the dignity of the institution I revere.”

And during an appearance at the United Nations, former senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “Either these senators were trying to be helpful to the Iranians or harmful to the commander in chief.”

But the New York Daily News expressed it most powerfully and succinctly, in bold capital letters spread wall-to-wall across its front page: TRAITORS. The cover sparked a wave on Twitter that saw “#47Traitors” dominate the U.S. Trends list throughout the day.

Just two months ago on the first full day of the 114th Congress, McConnell promised a “return to regular order” as he took the reins of the Senate, pledging to restore the faith of a nation that he said has lost trust in the federal government. By letting a rookie’s half-baked idea become the organizing principle for a misguided venture into foreign affairs, he not only risks losing order, but plunging the Senate into chaos.

Hawaii’s senators Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono were thankfully far from the fray on this one. Going forward, however, we encourage them to use every procedural tool at their disposal to keep McConnell and the junior senator from Arkansas focused on Senate affairs — and away from the keyboard.

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