News & Politics

House Democratic Chairmen Accuse Trump of 'Illegal' Withdrawal From Open Skies Treaty

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

On Thursday, Donald Trump announced that the U.S. was withdrawing from the Treaty on Open Skies, an accord signed by 34 countries that allows unarmed surveillance planes to fly over each other’s country.

In announcing the withdrawal, the administration cited clear Russian violations of the treaty, including their refusal to allow American observation flights over Kaliningrad and areas near its border with the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In addition, the administration said Russia had “undermined” its intent.

Open Skies was a product of the euphoria following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992. Then, cooperation and transparency were bywords.

But Russian behavior in the skies toward the U.S. since then has been confrontational and threatening.

But the chairmen of several House committees are claiming Trump didn’t give the required notification to withdraw.

The Hill:

“From the start, this process has been flawed and dismissed congressional oversight,” Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) wrote in a letter Friday to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

“Exercising Congress’s constitutional duty, we are writing to demand an explanation for this intended illegal action and insist that the administration comply with Section 1234,” the chairmen added, referring to the section of the National Defense Authorization Act that required the notification to Congress.

Technically, the House chairs may be correct, but it’s a moot point. Congress will be properly notified and the 120-day waiting period will go by and then Trump will announce the U.S. withdrawal. All the “i’s” will be dotted and “t’s” crossed properly.

But the Democrats want to interfere in the president’s foreign policy, even though they don’t have a constitutional leg to stand on.

In their letter, Engel and Smith recognized concerns about Russian flight restrictions, but argued those concerns “do not overshadow the value of the treaty to America’s national security” and can be addressed within the treaty’s implementing body.

Engel and Smith have written several previous letters to the administration on Open Skies, but said they have gotten no response. In the Friday letter, the pair railed against what they described as “egregious stonewalling” from the administration.

Democrats seem to think they have a say in how the president conducts routine foreign policy matters. They don’t. Besides, if they had waited a few hours, they would have heard the president assure the people that another treaty would be negotiated with the Russians — one not based on 30-year-old principles.

“I think we have a very good relationship with Russia, but Russia didn’t adhere to the treaty,” Trump told reporters before departing for a trip to Michigan. “So, until they adhere, we will pull out.”

“But there’s a very good chance we’ll make a new agreement or do something to put that agreement back together,” the president continued. “I think what’s going to happen is, we’re going to pull out and they’re going to come back and want to make a deal. We’ve had a very good relationship, lately, with Russia.”

President Obama rarely brought a treaty or agreement before Congress to be approved. Why should Trump inform Congress when he wants to withdraw from a treaty?