Did Obama Just Provoke a Constitutional Crisis?
President Barack Obama’s action is not exactly analogous to what Woodrow Wilson faced because he was presenting a treaty, but even so, Congress is not taking it lying down. On July 17, House whip Steny H. Hoyer and Sen. Ben Cardin wrote a letter to President Obama urging that the Security Council vote be delayed until after Congress has reviewed the agreement. Secretary of State John Kerry has fueled congressional anger, as Walter Russell Mead pointed out, by boasting:
[B]y having the Iran deal incorporated in a UN Security Council resolution, President Obama could tie the hands of future presidents, legally obligating them to abide by the Council’s resolution.
Thus, Cardin told the press:
Acting on it at this stage is a confusing message to an independent review by Congress over these next 60 days. So I think it would be far better to have that vote after the 60-day review, assuming that the agreement is not effectively rejected by Congress.
President Obama and Secretary Kerry did what they wanted, ignoring the two senators' bi-partisan letter. They went to the UN for the favorable vote they knew it would get.
The visible ignoring of the will of Congress, whose voice represents the people, will be resented by both Congress and constituents at home. As Walter Russell Mead puts it:
“There is precious little doubt that the Founders would have considered this a threat to the system of checks and balances they wrote into the Constitution.”
He believes President Obama may be creating a very real constitutional crisis. After all, he has set the precedent for the future, in which any president could act in a similar manner by getting UN approval rather than going to the Congress and by calling any foreign policy deal an agreement rather than a treaty.
If Obama was smart, he would have restrained from rushing to submit the agreement to the UN. By going to the UN, he will be giving recalcitrant members of Congress more of an incentive to turn it down altogether, or to spend more time raising difficult questions. Obama, nevertheless, showed his contempt for Congress and disavowed the advice of Steny Hoyer and Ben Cardin. He did so for one reason, because he knew that by the time the Senate voted, approval of the deal would be a fait accompli.
But then, how smart was he to make this bad deal to begin with? Indeed, it is a real possibility that his action will provoke a constitutional crisis.
Poor Woodrow Wilson. He was commander-in-Chief at the wrong time. How he would have wished the U.S. was already a member of the League, so he too could have bypassed Congress and done something akin to what Barack Obama is trying to do now.