In less than five days, GOP candidates will meet in Washington, D.C., to discuss national security and foreign policy. This first-ever presidential debate sponsored by The Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute will be the occasion for candidates to explain their vision for American foreign policy. Some presidential candidates’ views are rather well-known; others’ views are not. In fact, the question has been raised, does the President need to know anything about the subject. Who, under the Constitution, makes foreign policy?

The Constitution vests the power to make foreign policy in the federal government, specifically in the President and the Senate. The President takes the lead in crafting American foreign policy as the nation’s chief diplomat with the constitutional power to make treaties and appoint ambassadors. This authority, however, is checked by the Senate’s power of “Advice and Consent”: Not only does the Senate need to approve any presidential appointments or treaty agreements, but it can also amend those treaties.

While the House of Representatives is given no official role in directing foreign policy beyond declaring war, it can through the power of the purse express public sentiments about the actions of the President and Senate.

With this division of power, the Founding Fathers found a way to permit the effective and energetic conduct of foreign relations while imposing a system of accountability.

This question was reprinted from the new First Principles page at For more answers to frequently asked questions, visit