Secretary of State Antony Blinken hopes to end the whiplash that has characterized U.S. foreign policy over the previous two presidencies by seeking lawmakers’ blessing for major deals struck with America’s friends and foes.
Blinken, who became America’s top diplomat on Tuesday, eschewed the tactics that former Presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama’s administrations made in some of their major diplomatic initiatives. He emphasized congressional outreach on the heels of an exchange about the Iran nuclear deal. He signaled President Biden, who was a senator for 36 years and once chaired the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, intends to do things differently.
“It is hard to have a sustainable foreign policy absent the informed consent of the American people,” Blinken told reporters during his first full day at the State Department. “I think we stand a better chance in producing the kind of policies that will stand the test of time if we’re working closely upfront with Congress.”
“That informed consent, I think, comes in a couple of ways: One is, in a sense, it comes from you because many Americans are reading about, hearing about, listening to what we’re doing thanks to you,” Blinken told reporters. “But the place that, in our system, that informed consent is vitally important is with Congress. The members of Congress are the representatives of the American people. They provide ‘advice and consent’ to our policies.”
That statement echoed the Constitution’s language about the Senate’s role to weigh in on treaties negotiated by the president — an authority that was not exercised in 2015, when Obama declined to submit the Iran nuclear pact to the chamber as a treaty. Obama’s decision, which left the deal vulnerable to Trump’s subsequent decision to withdraw the United States, came several months after more than 340 lawmakers signed a letter asking him to coordinate with them.
“We urge greater consultation with Congress on a potential sanctions relief package that may be part of a final agreement,” California Rep. Ed Royce and New York Rep. Eliot Engel, then the top Republican and Democratic lawmakers on the Foreign Affairs Committee, warned at the time. “As these hugely consequential national security decisions are made, greater cooperation between Congress and the Executive Branch is essential, given that any permanent sanctions relief demands congressional approval.”
Blinken, without bringing up those lawmakers’ demands, expressed his intention to honor the spirit of their warning.
“One of the things you’re going to see from our administration is working as closely as we possibly can with Congress on these issues — from the takeoff, not just on the landing,” the secretary said. “Ultimately, for these policies to be sustainable, we, I think, need to try to work with them as much as we can, upfront, not at the back end.”