Thursday, January 1, 2015

The executive-congressional balance

Listening some days ago to a broadcast of a panel discussion about Pres. Obama's welcome move to normalize relations with Cuba, I heard one of the panelists imply that the absence of congressional involvement in the initiative is noteworthy.  I don't think so.  American presidents, certainly in recent decades but also throughout U.S. history, have typically conducted foreign policy by doing what they want and then consulting Congress afterward, if at all. 

Although I think the balance between Congress and the President has tipped too far in the latter's direction when it comes to decisions about the use of force, as a general matter it makes sense for Presidents to have a somewhat greater scope for independent action in the area of foreign affairs. That's not necessarily to say that the well-known (in certain circles) Supreme Court case (Curtiss-Wright) that held that the President has "inherent power" to conduct foreign relations was correct, but that's a somewhat different point. (Not taking the time to look the case up and refresh my memory.)

Whether Pres. Obama has made, on the whole, wise use of his power to conduct foreign affairs is also a separate question, one I won't take up in this post. But the Cuba move is unquestionably a good step, in my view.   


Anonymous said...

This may be one respect in which the Constitution is outdated. "Conducting foreign policy" was a much smaller portfolio in 1789 than it's become.

But I have no good suggestions for reform. Congress *can* put on the brakes whenever it wants; the problem is the president's much greater ability to win popular support.

LFC said...

"Conducting foreign policy" was a much smaller portfolio in 1789 than it's become.

Yes. Ordinarily I'd have more to say, but I had a small accident earlier today -- not vehicular, pedestrian -- nothing extremely serious, but the cognitive gears are not really whirring right now. Anyway, happy new year.