US President and Congress: Conflicts and Controversies

Although the president of the United States is called in the world’s media “the world’s most powerful man”, this is not something to happen in America. According to the constitution and the separation of the Legislative and the Executive branches, they are literally two separate bodies. The American form of government was founded on the key principle of checks and balances. By separating powers between the president and Congress, the founding fathers hoped that each would control and check the power of the other. However, there has always been a kind of conflict between these two US powers. This piece of writing seeks to find the main sources of these conflicts using historical cases of US president and Congress conflicts.

One of the most important conflicts between the US President and the Congress is when a war happened. If we think of the Korean War and go back to the historical reports and documents, we can easily get that the declaration of war on the North Korea was not permitted by the US Congress. According to the US Constitution the president can declare war on a country as Commander-in-Chief but before sending troops the Congress must approve it. In 1950, President Harry Truman saw communist North Korea’s invasion of South Korea as a threat to the US but it was not a congressional vote that brought the U.S. into the Korean War. It was a United Nations resolution that condemned North Korea’s invasion of South Korea. This is what President Truman used in his decision to send troops to Korea. In this case the Congress not only exercised its power to declare war, but also it did not vote for the president’s decision to declare war on North Korea.

In another part of the American history, when Richard Nixon became the president of the United States he said that the North Vietnam was using neighboring Cambodia as a safe place for its troops. Then Nixon ordered an invasion of that country. In an April 30, 1970 TV speech, he said that the US had respected Cambodia’s neutrality. That was a lie. The president had ordered secret bombings of that country for several months. Now he announced that sending in U.S. troops was necessary to win the war against North Vietnam. This time the Congress rebelled against the president’s actions using its constitutional power. The congress had not been consulted about either the Cambodia bombings or the decision to send in troops. In December 1970, Congress prohibited the use of funds to finance introducing troops into Cambodia or to provide U.S. advisers to Cambodia. In June 1973, Congress set August 15, 1974, as the date for the end of all funding for combat activities in Southeast Asia. In April 1975 the last U.S. troops left Cambodia and Vietnam.

Another example of US Congress and president conflict could be the US president support for the Contras in Nicaragua. The Contras were the enemies of the Sandinista revolutionaries who had overthrown Anastasia Somoza, a brutal dictator in the Central American nation of Nicaragua. President Ronald Reagan started supplying weapons and training to the Contras. A disapproving Congress passed legislation barring this support in December 1982. The president said that interfered with his authority to conduct foreign affairs. Legislators argued that the president acted unconstitutionally if he involved the country in a war, even if the soldiers were not American.

President Bush announced in January 2007 that he was sending an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq. He said that he knew Congress could vote against it, “but I’ve made my decision and we’re going forward.” The president has said repeatedly, that he is “the decider” on issues of war. While, according the US Constitution the president needs the Congress approval on issues of war. During a hearing on congressional war powers, Senator Spector, said that he would suggest respectfully to the president that he is not the only decider. The decider is a shared responsibility.

There have been many other conflicts between the two branches of power in the United States, the president and the Congress, during the American history. But the main question that comes to mind is that why these kinds of conflicts have always existed during the American history? Usually the majority of the Congress is made up of the party opposed to one of the president. However, in cases which both the president and the Congress were from the same party, conflicts existed. Although it has some effects, we can conclude that the origin of these conflicts very much of the party affiliation.

Historically, Republican presidents have always had more success in dealing with a Democrat dominated Congress than a Democrat president with a Republican dominated Congress. Democrat presidents have had real problems with Democrat dominated Congress. Therefore a simple same-party majority between the president and Congress does not guarantee that the president will see his recommendations accepted. This would show that the ideologies held by American politicians are not simply linked to one party. Cross-party support for a certain issue can and does happen.

But what are the sources of these conflicts? I think several factors can cause conflict in US system of separated institutions sharing power. Among them are constitutional ambiguities, different constituencies, varying terms of office, divided party control of the different branches, and fluctuating support of a president or the Congress.