Two weeks ago, President Trump broke with long-standing U.S. policy when he recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. In January, he recognized Juan Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela, rejecting President Nicolas Máduro’s hold on power.
Where in the Constitution does it give Presidents the authority to determine American policy on territorial or leadership disputes involving other countries? Nowhere. The Constitution makes our country’s foreign and domestic policies a shared enterprise between Congress and the President.
Congress passes laws, and the President implements them. The President negotiates treaties, and the Senate ratifies them. The Framers required a sharing of power because they recognized that if elected officials can act alone, without any checks or balance, the risk is too high that the officials will abuse their power.
But in a poorly reasoned decision four years ago (in the Zivotofsky case), the Supreme Court held that Presidents possess an exclusive authority to decide questions involving the recognition of foreign governments.
At issue in that case was the status of Jerusalem. Congress had passed laws stating that Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of Israel, but President Obama took the same position as his predecessors—the status of Jerusalem should be decided through peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The Court sided with Obama and against Congress. (Thus, in December 2017, when President Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and decided to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, he was not acting unilaterally but in concert with Congress.)
Sometimes, Presidents make good decisions unilaterally, but many decisions will be ill-advised and cause much harm. Decisions are better made when they emerge from deliberations among people with different perspectives.