Nina M. Serafino and Eleni G. Ekmektsioglou
Congress may not be seen as a major player in U.S. national security, but it is congressional action that sets the foundation on which national security policy is constructed. Congressional legislation empowers the actions of federal departments and agencies, authorizes and appropriates funds, and defines the roles and missions of different offices (and who can occupy them). Yet Congress’s role in national security can vary based on the president’s ability to respond quickly to set the national security agenda; the president’s acumen, political skills, and popularity; and structural and political limitations on how the legislature can impose its preferences on the executive branch. Congress finds it harder to prevail when the president responds in a crisis using preexisting powers and authorities, but it can constrain the executive branch using constitutional prerogatives along with informal means such as influencing public opinion.