The new, entirely Republican-led U.S. Congress will weigh in on global hotspots and America’s response to them when lawmakers return to Washington next week. Conflicts from Ukraine to the Middle East are on legislators’ minds - as are high-profile international initiatives undertaken by President Barack Obama.
International negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program resume one week after Congress gavels in. Skeptics, like Republican Senator Bob Corker, have said lawmakers will consider tougher sanctions on Tehran in case negotiations fail.
“There will be a desire very quickly after the first of the year for Congress to weigh in on the topic in some form or fashion. Congress will want to weigh in on the Iran deal,” he said.
Congressional wariness over Iran’s nuclear ambitions is not new. What no one anticipated just weeks ago is that Congress would wrestle with President Obama’s surprise diplomatic opening with Cuba.
Ending the U.S. embargo of Cuba would require an act of Congress, something Democratic Senator Ben Cardin supports.
“There will be a need for Congress to take action, hopefully, as we move to a new chapter in our Cuban relations. And it is going to be an interesting debate,” said Cardin.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio is ready for that debate.
“This Congress is not going to lift the embargo,” he said. “The White House has conceded everything and gained little [from Havana]. They gained no commitment on the part of the Cuban regime to freedom of the press, or freedom of speech, or elections.”
Republicans want to be seen as offering constructive criticism, according to political scientist William Howell.
“On the one hand, they want to underscore failings on the part of the Obama administration, and on the other hand, they need to be seen as a responsible, mature party that can lead the nation,” said Howell.
Majority status in both houses of Congress will give Republicans a louder megaphone to critique the president’s handling of crises from Ukraine to the Islamic State insurgency in Iraq and Syria.
Obama is also not immune to dissent from his own Democratic Party, according to political analyst Stuart Rothenberg.
“The president could have as many or more problems on the left, with Democrats, on international and national security issues as he could have with Republicans. There are lots of Democrats who are more concerned about the U.S. recommitting troops,” said Rothenberg.
Whatever Congress’ concerns, the president appears determined to leave a stamp on America’s outreach to the world. In a recent interview, he said: “I believe in diplomacy. I believe in dialogue. I believe in engagement.”