WASHINGTON (Nov. 4, 2020)—The Trump administration’s unorthodox foreign policy worldview has prompted members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to try and claw back power over foreign affairs. However, many of these attempts have been unsuccessful because they aim for the wrong thing.

In a new policy study, Ryan Dukeman, a founding senior fellow at FP21, argues that policy influence over headline issues of the day is the wrong standard for Congress to measure its effectiveness in foreign policy. Instead, a new standard of “empowered engagement” that focuses on legislative diplomacy, structural foreign policy and empowering individual policy entrepreneurs should be considered.

“In this high-stakes window for reform, Congress should strengthen its engagement on foreign policy in ways most likely to succeed,” said Dukeman. He continued: “Congress should reconceptualize the standard on which its foreign policy leadership is judged, one where it can better play to under- appreciated institutional advantages.”

Institutional factors beyond individual members’ ability to control are behind much of Congress’s declining foreign policy influence on headline issues: information disparities, polarization and the need for rapid response among them. To effectively reclaim its foreign policy powers, it is critical for Congress to work within rather than attempt to overcome these broader trends.

To set itself up for “empowered engagement,” Congress should bolster institutions of legislative diplomacy, focus on institutional reform in executive branch agencies and insert congressional voices into executive branch deliberations.

You can read the full policy paper, “Congress and Foreign Policy: An Actionable Agenda for Empowered Engagement in 2021,” here.

Featured Publications