Congress Has Abdicated Its Responsibilities
Congress has abdicated its constitutional role as a necessary check on the Executive Branch for far too long. In 1787, the founders granted special powers to Congress, fearing a too-powerful executive that monarchically wielded power with little or no controls. However, Congress has not consistently guarded that role. Instead, its constitutionally-mandated authority has rapidly receded over time; starting with the New Deal programs and War Powers Acts of 1941 and 1942, the FDR administration established patterns of unprecedented presidential power that continue largely unchecked today.
This week we’ve witnessed a series of constitutional crises due to that same erosion of proper balance between our legislative and executive branches.
On Sunday night the President tweeted, without consulting Congress or even the Defense Department, that the United States is withdrawing approximately 1,000 troops from the Syrian/Turkey border. This is problematic in many regards:
First, this dire situation has only been made possible because of Congress’ previous derelictions of duty. Congress abdicated its responsibility when it failed to vote on President Obama’s decision to expand the War on Terror without congressional approval in 2014. While Congress voted in a bipartisan manner to support the arming and training of local rebels, it did not vote regarding American bombing efforts or ground troops. When Obama later sent in special forces to assist on the ground, Congress continued to remain silent. As President Trump prolonged the unconstitutional war, Congress continued in its silence. Only in the wake of Congress’s silence can the President now dare to impulsively move troops, exposing our longtime allies, the Kurds, to a threat of annihilation, without fear of congressional repercussion.
Secondly, when the U.S. makes promises to vulnerable allies like the Kurds, we are morally obligated to keep those commitments. To withdraw aid without warning now will cause long-term trust issues with all other allies.
Had Congress acted responsibly in the first place we wouldn’t be in this mess.
Yet another issue is the President’s choice to make and break U.S. treaties with reckless abandon, a role not within his enumerated constitutional powers. Thomas Jefferson once stated that, “it is understood that an act of the legislature alone can declare them [treaties] infringed and rescinded.” However, just this week the President announced that the U.S. will withdraw from the effective and unilaterally-supported Open Skies Treaty.
The Open Skies Treaty is a multinational agreement that allows all 34 signatory nations to fly reconnaissance missions over each other’s territory in order to monitor potential military risks. It was ratified by the U.S. Senate and went into force in 2002. Since that time, there have been significant numbers of flights that have helped ensure military peace between these nations.
Unfortunately, however, the courts have held that such unilateral treaty actions are within the Executive’s purview since Congress has failed to assert its authority on the issue in the past. In other words, Congress created this monster and Congress must fix it.
Congressional representatives are duty-bound to protect the citizens they represent from impulsive presidential actions. The recent abandonment of the Kurds and the withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty are both results of Congress inaction, of decades-long decisions to forfeit its responsibilities to the Executive Branch. This has happened on many fronts – national defense, finance, and bureaucracy alike – and needs to end.
The Founders wisely divided the government into three “separate but equal” branches. We have become top-heavy in a way that was never intended. We need to return to the original plan.
The erosion of congressional powers has helped lead to the hyper-partisanship that we experience. The longer serious constitutional duties are evaded, the more Congress will sidestep meaningful, necessary debates about how to solve the country’s problems. Instead, Congress will become a body that issues purely partisan statements and virtually meaningless votes.
When I am elected, I will impose a self-litmus test on this issue for all legislation that comes before me. I will support legislation that helps Congress reassert its rightful place as a co-equal branch of government. I will fight to return the powers to declare war, ratify and cancel treaties, and perform all other constitutionally mandated responsibilities to their proper sphere. I will work tirelessly to restore the proper balance of power. This is my pledge.