A joint hearing of the House Armed Services Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, September 2007.
Jim Bourg / REUTERS

On January 3, 2019, U.S. President Donald Trump will face a new reality: a chamber of Congress controlled by the opposition party. Confronting a hostile Democratic House of Representatives will be a rude awakening for a president who chafes at any limits on his authority. For the first two years of his presidency, Trump experienced little resistance from the Republican-controlled Congress as he sought to disrupt the established international order. Republicans largely stood by as Trump withdrew from vital international agreements, embraced autocrats while giving allies the cold shoulder, used Twitter to threaten friends and foes alike, and discarded democracy and human rights as core values of U.S. foreign policy.

His free rein is over. Now that Democrats have taken power in the House of Representatives, Congress has a chance to influence the administration’s foreign policy. The Constitution gives Congress more authority over foreign affairs than most observers understand. It has the power of the purse, the power to declare war, and the power to regulate the armed forces, trade, and immigration. Congress can fund programs it supports and withhold money from those it doesn’t. It can block initiatives that require legislation and use investigations to expose and

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  • BRIAN McKEON is Senior Director of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement and served as U.S. Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy from 2014 to 2017. He was Chief Counsel for the Democratic members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1997 to 2009.
  • CAROLINE TESS is a Senior Fellow at the Penn Biden Center and was Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Legislative Affairs at the National Security Council from 2014 to 2017. She worked on Capitol Hill from 2003 to 2010, including in the office of the Senate Majority Leader and on the staff of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
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