Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

Podcast: American foreign policy, Iran and the Constitution

March 12, 2015 by NCC Staff


Who should control American foreign policy: the President or Congress? And what does the Constitution say about that? These questions have dominated the headlines in recent week as President Obama and Republican congressional leaders have sparred over nuclear programs talks with Iran.

Bruce Ackerman and Louis Fisher

The United States, in cooperation with five other major world powers, is scrambling to meet a late March deadline in its ongoing negotiations with Iran. The U.S. wants Iran to scale back its nuclear program, while Iran seeks relief from economic and financial sanctions.

All parties insist that a preliminary framework for a deal must be in place by April in order for a full agreement to be hammered out. Any such deal on the U.S. side would likely come in the form of an executive agreement, and not a treaty subject to immediate congressional approval.

However, there is intense opposition to a potential deal in Congress, with most Republicans, and some Democrats, believing Iran will use any agreement as a pretext to keep efforts going to build nuclear weapons.

House Speaker John Boehner made his reservations known publicly when he invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress last week without consulting the Obama administration.

Then, on Monday, 47 Republican senators sent a letter to Iran’s leaders, in which they explained the role of the Senate in approving treaties. The letter also pointed out that any agreement short of a treaty could be revoked by a future Republican president.

Both acts started a wide-ranging public debate about the proper constitutional roles of the President and Congress in directing foreign policy.

Joining us to untangle the constitutional issues at stake are two leading experts and good friends of our podcast series.

Bruce Ackerman is the Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University. His latest book is We the People: The Civil Rights Revolution.

Louis Fisher is Scholar in Residence at the Constitution Project. He previously worked for four decades at the Library of Congress as a Senior Specialist in the Separation of Powers and a Specialist in Constitutional Law.

You can listen to the entire podcast below or at the following link: Download this episode (right click and save)


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