President Bush yesterday said Speaker Pelosi’s bipartisan delegation to Syria sends “mixed signals,” implying that Pelosi overstepped her bounds by merely visiting Syria.
Bush’s supporters have been repeating the argument:
Former ambassador John Bolton: “I would simply hope that people would understand that, under the Constitution, the president conducts foreign policy, not the speaker of the House.”
Former Gov. Mitt Romney: “It has long been the established principle of this country that the president of the United States leads our foreign policy. And if you don’t like the president, then you change him. But you don’t have the two parties each conducting foreign policy in the way they think it ought to be conducted.”
Speaker Pelosi has done nothing to suggest that she intended to speak on behalf of President Bush or the U.S. Government. But her predecessors haven’t been so respectful.
In 1997, Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) led a delegation to Colombia at a time when U.S. officials were trying to attach human rights conditions to U.S. security assistance programs. Hastert specifically encouraged Colombian military officials to “bypass” President Clinton and “communicate directly with Congress.”
…a congressional delegation led by Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) which met with Colombian military officials, promising to “remove conditions on assistance” and complaining about “leftist-dominated” U.S. congresses of years past that “used human rights as an excuse to aid the left in other countries.” Hastert said he would to correct this situation and expedite aid to countries allied in the war on drugs and also encouraged Colombian military officials to “bypass the U.S. executive branch and communicate directly with Congress.”
Subsequently, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Myles Frechette sent a cable complaining that Hastert’s actions had undermined his leverage with the Colombian military leadership.
In other instances, Hastert actually guided congressional staff to unilaterally reach deals with Colombian officials:
House Foreign Affairs Committee staff, at the direction of the Hastert group, would fly to Colombia, meet with the nation’s anti-narcotics police and negotiate the levels and terms of assistance, the scope of the program and the kinds of equipment that would be needed. Rarely were the U.S. diplomatic personnel in our embassy in Bogata consulted about the “U.S.” position in these negotiations, and in a number of instances they were excluded from or not even made aware of the meetings.
If the right is looking for members of Congress clearly infringing on the president’s constitutional prerogatives, they should look at Hastert, not Pelosi.