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Obama, Congress Expected to Clash over Foreign Policy

Some of President Barack Obama’s loudest critics will have more power in 2015. They will take leadership positions in the United States Senate when the Republican Party takes control of Congress in January. Republicans already control the House of Representatives.

Senate Republicans are often critical of U.S. foreign policy under President Obama. The president’s policies will be examined even more closely when the new Congress takes office.

Republican lawmakers are often quick to criticize President Obama on issues from Ukraine to the Middle East. Senator Bob Corker is a Republican from Tennessee.

“I have no earthly idea how the administration plans to go about degrading and destroying ISIS in Syria. (I) have no earthly idea.”

Senator John McCain has also been critical of the Obama administration.

“This president does not understand (Russian President) Vladimir Putin. He does not understand his ambitions, he does not understand that Vladimir Putin is an old KGB colonel bent on restoration of the Russian Empire.”

In January, Mr. Corker will become chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Mr. McCain will lead the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Stuart Rothenburg studies U.S. politics.

“John McCain rarely pulls punches. And, he's quite sure of what needs to be done, and that the president isn't doing it.”

Mr. Rothenberg says Congress can have an effect on a president’s dealings with other countries.

“They can limit what the president can do on not only on domestic spending, but spending internationally -- national security, armed forces and things like that. Having said that, yeah, this is the one area where the president traditionally has considerable freedom to operate.”

William Howell is a political scientist at the University of Chicago. He says Republican-led congressional committees are sure to question President Obama’s decisions during his last two years in office.

“Politically, they have powerful incentives to underscore what they perceived to be the failings of the Obama administration in foreign policy. What they can do is they can set the terms of the discussion that are going to ensue. They can say we're gonna have investigations.”

Senator McCain recently showed what administration officials may have to deal with next year. He recently questioned Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Elissa Slotkin at a hearing about Islamic State militants.

“I’m asking what the strategy is.”

“Our strategy is to defeat ISIL, to…”

“I just repeated, that’s a goal, not a strategy. I want to know what the strategy is.”

President Obama has also been criticized by lawmakers from his own party. Democratic Senator Robert Menendez does not agree with the administration’s policy toward nuclear negotiations with Iran.

“Right now, we are playing right into the Iranian narratives.”

Thomas Pickering is a former U.S. ambassador.

Polarization is deep in the American Congress now.”

Ambassador Pickering knows the Senators who will chair committees next year. He believes they will do what is right for the country.

“My own sense is that both Senator McCain and Senator Corker have shown strong periods of serious responsibility for the national interest.”

The foreign policy fights could begin as soon as Congress meets in January. Senator Corker says lawmakers want to take stronger economic and diplomatic actions against Iran if nuclear negotiations fail.

I’m Bob Doughty.

VOA Washington Correspondent Michael Bowman reported this story. Christopher Cruise wrote and produced the story for VOA Learning English. George Grow edited the story.


Words in This Story

degrade v. to make the quality of (something) worse

bent on idiom having a strong desire to do (something)

restoration n. re-establishment

pull punches idiom to express criticism in a mild or kind way; usually used in negative statements

incentive n. something that encourages a person to do something or to work harder

perceived adj. something that is thought of

set the terms of idiom to define the limits; to determine what will be discussed

ensue v. to come at a later time; to happen as a result

playing right into idiom to help someone without realizing it

narrative n. a story that is told or written; the expression of beliefs

polarization/polarize v. to cause (people or opinions) to separate into opposing groups

deep adj. going far down; a long way from top to bottom

How does the Obama administration’s foreign policy affect you and your country? What role, if any, does the legislature of your country place in setting and conducting foreign policy? We want to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments section.

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