Obama, yesterday, asked Congress for authorisation to carry use military force in Syria against ISIS for up to three years. The request has made headline news across news outlets and is a great example for Politics students.
Firstly, the fact that Obama is asking for such authorisation (not a formal declaration of war) suggests that Congress do still retain some power over foreign affairs. Most students will refer to the fact that Congress has not declared war since 1941 and therefore they are weak; however all of the major conflicts since then have been authorised by joint resolutions from Congress including Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. This therefore is no different; the fact that Obama thinks it is necessary to go to Congress suggests that they are not without power.
It also supports a common theme in second-term Presidents: in losing the House and then the Senate, Obama faces a difficult time on the domestic front. In these situations, it is not uncommon for Presidents to utilise the more unchecked powers that they hold, such as commander in chief. Additionally, Presidents at this point in their presidency are often looking to secure a legacy for themselves, and one of the most common ways that this is done is through foreign policy.
Finally, criticism leveled at Obama about this request has come from both parties. This demonstrates the difficulty a President can face in a system of separated powers; while he is notionally accepted as the head of his party, with Congress being remote from the White House and with congressmen thinking about their 2016 re-election campaign, being stood next to Obama is not seen as helpful for some Democrats. Therefore he finds himself under fire not only from the Republicans, but the Democrats too.
Doubtless this story is useful; it is likely to become more so as the story unfolds in the coming days and weeks.