American Elephants


Congress Is Supposed to Meddle in the Iran Talks. That’s Their Job. by The Elephant's Child

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Put aside the overheated spat about the wisdom of inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress this week. The deeper constitutional issue involves the insistence by President Barack Obama that the House and Senate have no business floating sanctions bills that might upset the administration’s negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. The truth is that there’s nothing remotely unusual going on. Congress has pressured presidents to change their approaches to foreign policy for as long as the country has existed. This sort of interplay among the branches is exactly what the Framers expected.

This is Stephen L Carter, writing for Bloomberg last Thursday. Do read the whole thing. It’s particularly nice to see a professor of law, once again, clarifying the relationship between the executive office and Congress. The people often complain that Congress just seems to fight. Why can’t they just get along, and get stuff done?

Nancy Pelosi supposedly fumed about Congress’s “insult” to the president by inviting Prime Minister Netanyahu to address Congress. Congress does not have to ask the permission of the president to invite anyone they want to speak to them, and Ms. Pelosi knows that perfectly well.

Congress has not only the right to disagree with the President, but it is their duty when they believe he’s off on the wrong track. The founders intended for Congress to debate and fight and expose all sides of the questions before them. Laws are not to be made by presidents, that’s Congress’s job, and laws are not to be made in haste but after the problems have been hashed out to the extent possible.

Professor Carter cites numerous recent examples that make it clear that struggles between the legislative and executive branches have occurred “over how to deal with everything from attacks on U.S. ships by the Barbary states to Russian expansionism in North America.”

This unambiguous history makes it all the more remarkable that members of the Obama administration continue to insist that there is something constitutionally troubling about, for example, the proposed Iran Nuclear Review Act of 2015, which would require the president to submit for congressional approval whatever agreement he reaches with Tehran. “I don’t think there ought to be a formal approval process,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in congressional testimony last month. “I believe this falls squarely within the executive power of the president of the United States in the execution of American foreign policy.”…

We can argue long and hard over the proper contours of the final deal with Tehran. But it’s wrong to suggest that Congress is misbehaving when it insists on protecting its prerogatives. Battles between the executive and legislative branches over foreign policy are as old as the republic. If the outcome of the current fight is a restriction on the freedom of this or a future president to go his own way, that’s a feature, not a bug.

Stephen L.Carter is a professor of law at Yale University, who teaches courses on contracts, professional responsibility, ethics in literature, intellectual property, and the law and ethics of war, and writes good thrillers as well.


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