My earlier post on whether John Boehner’s invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu seems to have triggered a little in-house conservative disagreement on the issue (or at least Weekly Standard’s Adam J. White is giving me credit for that). Mike Ramsey and David Bernstein come out against the invite’s constitutionality here and here; White argues in favor.
As I left off my first post, the question is appropriately raised but I think ultimately the Boehner move will go down as policy stupid but constitutionally legitimate. Appropriately raised because the invitation seems so patently at odds with a “one voice”/”sole organ” approach to foreign relations. Nice to have Mike Ramsey to confirm that the Founding generation wouldn’t have bought in (though Ryan Scoville dissents on the historical record here). But it would have provoked a huge controversy in the 20th century as well — see the much more informal interaction between Jim Wright and the Sandinistas during the Reagan years. Imagine if Wright had invited Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega to address Congress. I think a lot of folks would have deployed constitutional objections to that.
But just because it may have been unconstitutional then doesn’t mean it’s unconstitutional now.
The fact that it was left to a niche blogger to raise the constitutional question this time around pretty much proves the fact that this is now water under the constitutional bridge. There’s no way to put the lid on direct communication between members of Congress and foreign government officials. So much for “one voice.” One has to assume such communications are now dense. Making the jump from lots of behind-the-scenes contact to more formal actions like the Boehner invitation looks small. One might even argue that it is transparency enhancing. Better to play the institutional cards openly than hide them under the table. (Adam White highlights similar activity on the part of the courts, including the increasing amicus practice of foreign states. That practice would have raised a lot of eyebrows as recently as a couple of decades ago, especially on domestic issues; it’s now pretty routine.)
So the episode is a nice illustration of how changes in context can change constitutional understandings. Assuming the constitutional debate on the Boehner move remains restricted to a side conversation among constitutional scholars, it will supply a good precedent for similar moves on Congress’ part in the future. The practice then becomes constitutionally entrenched, accepted by all relevant actors. Any earlier understandings (including ones dating back to the founding) are overtaken by events. Th Constitution necessarily adapts to the world in which it has to operate.