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Foreign Policy Powers of the President & Congress

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  • 0:03 Presidential Powers
  • 3:50 Congressional Powers
  • 6:32 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley
In the United States, both the president and Congress have influence over the development and implementation of foreign policy. In this lesson, you'll learn about the powers that the executive and legislative branch exerts over foreign policy.

Presidential Powers

Imagine that you are the president of the United States. As president, your job requires you to protect the economic, military, ideological, legal, and cultural interests of the United States. This is often collectively referred to as protecting and advancing the 'national interest.' You do this, in part, through development and implementation of foreign policy.

As the leader of a democratic republic, you do not have absolute power to accomplish your foreign policy. Your actions and power to implement foreign policy are bound by the rule of law. Your greatest source of authority to conduct foreign policy is found in the United States Constitution.

Article II of the Constitution provides the legal authority for the president's implementation of foreign policy. Let's take a look.

The Constitution grants the president the power to make treaties and appoint ambassadors subject to the advice and consent of the Senate. In other words, you have the power to engage in negotiations with other countries and appoint ambassadors to represent the government in dealings with foreign powers.

It's also generally acknowledged that the president has the power to recognize foreign countries - the acknowledgment of their right legal right to exist as a member of the international community. Moreover, presidents have asserted constitutional authority to make executive agreements with a foreign government. For example, some trade agreements have been made by way of executive agreements instead of treaties. Executive agreements don't require Senate ratification.

Article II also gives you important power relating to legislation. Remember, all government action must be based on the Constitution or a duly enacted law. Article II gives you the power to recommend legislation to Congress that advances foreign policy as well as your power to veto legislation that you believe is against the national interest are also important constitutional powers of the president.

Another very important power is the 'executive power' bestowed on the president in Article II. This power, when combined with your duty to see that the laws be faithfully executed, gives you, as president, a very broad range of implied power - power that is not expressly stated in the Constitution but has been implied as necessary to fulfill your responsibilities. The manifestation of this power is the executive order. An executive order is a presidential directive that either implements or interprets a federal law, a provision of the Constitution, or a treaty and is used to regulate the behavior of executive agencies and those working for them. In fact, through much of history, presidents have been given quite a bit of deference in foreign policy matters.

Of course, your constitutional role as commander-in-chief of the armed forces gives you a great deal of power to implement foreign policy. This means that you are the head of the military. You can send the armed forces abroad to protect the national interest and to project power to send a message. While you don't have the power to declare war, you do have the authority to initiate limited military action without congressional approval in certain circumstances. In fact, the United States hasn't formally declared war since World War II. All military actions taken since then have been initiated without a congressional declaration of war.

Congress has tried to limit your power to engage in military action without its approval by enacting the War Powers Resolution. The constitutionality of this law has never been tested in court. Even though presidents have asserted authority to send in troops regardless of the law, past presidents have generally complied with its provisions.

Congressional Powers

Of course, there are 535 other people that have a say in the formulation of foreign policy according to the United States Constitution - the members of Congress. Let's take a quick look.

Congress is obviously a legislative body, and the laws it enacts can directly or indirectly influence foreign policy. Probably the most influential legislative activity Congress has over foreign policy is the power to appropriate money. In other words, Congress decides how much the government can spend and what it can spend the people's money on. For example, Congress will determine the level of spending for defense, intelligence, and funding the Department of State's diplomatic activities and embassies. Likewise, Congress determines which countries get financial aid and how much they get.

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