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Presidential Powers - 9



Section 1:        Presidential Powers


Section 2:        Roles of the President


Section 3:        Styles of Leadership




Section 1:        Presidential Powers


  • mandate

  • forum


Constitutional Powers


         The Founders had two reasons to give the national government a strong executive: 


      -  One of the main weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation was its lack of an independent executive to carry out the acts of Congress.



      - many of the Founders distrusted direct participation by the people in

         decision  making




         Article II, Sections 2 and 3 define the president’s powers:


     The president is commander in chief of the armed forces, responsible for national security.












The president appoints, and the Senate confirms, the heads of executive departments.  The president conducts foreign policy—making treaties (with the Senate’s approval) and appointing ambassadors.  




-    The president appoints federal court judges, can pardon those convicted of federal crimes and can reduce a person’s jail sentence or fine.


Ford Pardons Nixon - September 8, 1974



     The president ensures that the laws Congress passes are “faithfully executed.”


     The president delivers an annual State of the Union message to Congress, proposes legislation, and can call Congress into special session when necessary.




     Following the terrorist attacks of 2001, George W. Bush gained sweeping authority from Congress to fight terrorism.


Oct. 26, 2001: President Bush Signs PATRIOT Act



         A mandate—the expressed will of the people, often in an election—is one of the greatest sources of political power.

         Major newspapers, magazines and the Internet provide a forum, or medium for discussion, for presidential messages.


Limits on Executive Power


         Congress can limit the president’s authority.


The War Powers Act of 1973

     Congress can pass legislation even after a president has vetoed it.


President Nixon Vetoes the War Powers Act of 1973

     The Senate must confirm a president’s appointees.




     The House of Representatives must approve the budget.



     The House and the Senate can use the impeachment process to remove the president from office.





     In Marbury v. Madison, the Supreme Court said that it had the right to the final interpretation of whether an act of the legislature or the president violates the Constitution.




     Public opinion can also affect a president. Without favorable public opinion, no president can carry out a political program.



Credit: NSF/NBC Learn





Section 2:        Roles of the President


  • executive order

  • impoundment

  • reprieve

  • pardon

  • amnesty

  • patronage

  • treaty

  • executive agreement


Head of State


         As head of state, the president represents the nation and performs many ceremonial roles.


         The president is the nation’s chief diplomat.


         As a living symbol of the nation, the president is not just a single individual, but the collective image of the United States.


Chief Executive


         As the nation’s chief executive, the president sees that the laws of Congress are carried out.


         Presidents have several tools to influence how laws are carried out:


     executive orders, or rules that have the force of law,


     the power to appoint people to important offices in the executive branch,


     the right to fire officials they have appointed,


     impoundment of funds—refusing to allow a federal department or agency to spend money Congress has appropriated, and


     the power to appoint officials to the judiciary.


     The president can also grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States.


     A reprieve grants a postponement of legal punishment.


     A pardon is a release from legal punishment.


     The president may grant amnesty— a group pardon to people for an offense against the government, often in a military situation. 







  Chief Legislator


     Congress expects the executive branch to propose legislation it wishes to see enacted.


     Usually the president describes a legislative program in the annual State of the Union message to Congress.


     The president has a large staff to help write legislation.


     An important presidential tool in lawmaking is the power to veto any bill the Congress sends for approval.


 Economic Planner


     The Employment Act of 1946 gave new duties to the president:


     It directed the president to submit an annual economic report to Congress.


     It created a Council of Economic Advisers to study the economy and help prepare a report for the president.


     It said that the federal government was responsible for promoting high employment, production, and purchasing power.


     It is the president’s duty to prepare an annual budget.



Party Leader




         The president’s party expects the chief executive to be a party leader.


         Presidents are expected to appoint members of their party to government jobs.


         Political patronage, or appointment to a political office, rewards the people who have helped get a president elected.


         If a president appears to act in a partisan way the media and public may be critical.


Chief Diplomat




         The president directs the foreign policy of the United States, making key decisions about the relations the United States has with other countries of the world.


         A struggle continues between the president and Congress over who will exercise control of the country’s foreign policy.


         The ability to take decisive action has added greatly to the power of the presidency in foreign affairs.


         As chief diplomat, the president has sole power to negotiate and sign treaties
formal agreements between the governments of two or more countries.


         Two-thirds of the Senate must approve of all treaties before they can go into effect.


         The president has the authority to make executive agreements —pacts between the president and the head of a foreign government.


         Executive agreements have the same legal status as treaties but do not require Senate consent.


         The president decides whether the U.S. will recognize governments of other countries.


Commander in Chief


         The president shares with Congress the power to make war.


         The president is responsible for the key military decisions that represent overall policy and strategy.


         The president has the authority to order the use of nuclear weapons.


         During war, Congress is likely to give the president special powers at home as well as abroad.





Section 3:        Styles of Leadership



  • de facto

  • covert


  • executive privilege


Increased Responsibilities


         The Founders originally intended for the Congress, not the president, to lead the nation.


         Instead the powers and duties of the president have grown steadily over the years.


         Public opinion surveys clearly show that Americans look to the president to keep the peace and to solve economic and social problems.


Leadership Qualities and Skills


         A president must know and understand the American people.


         When a president has public support, presidential proposals and policies are better received by Congress than when the public holds a president in low regard.


         Successful presidents must be able to communicate effectively and to present their ideas in a way that inspires public support.


         A successful president must know when the time is right to introduce a new policy, make a key decision, or to delay such actions.


         Good leadership also requires the capacity to be flexible and open to new ideas.


         A successful president must be able to recognize that sometimes they have to settle for legislation that provides only part of the programs they want.


         Successful presidents need political courage to go against public opinion to do what they think is best.


Presidential Isolation


         As presidents have become more dependent on the White House staff, there is the danger that they will become isolated from solid information and sound advice.


         Presidents can easily discourage staff members from disagreeing with them or giving unpleasant advice.


         Top staffers have easy access to the president and can use their closeness to control others’ access.


         One of President Reagan’s staffers called Reagan’s chief of staff the de facto president, meaning that although he did not legally hold the office, he exercised the power as if he were president.


         President Reagan’s isolation made it believable when he claimed he was unaware of the covert, or secret, activities of his National Security Council staff in the Iran-Contra affair.


         Keeping in direct touch with the public can be very difficult for a modern president.


         The need for the cabinet members to protect the interests of their departments and the constituent groups they serve always influences the advice they give.


 Executive Privilege


         To keep their White House discussions confidential, modern presidents have sometimes used executive privilege— the right of the president and other high-ranking executive officers, with the president’s consent, to refuse to provide information to congress or a Court.


         Presidents claim executive privilege is necessary to protect their communication with executive branch staff.


         As more policy has been made in the Executive Office of the President, the constitutionality and limits of executive privilege have become controversial.




Chapter Summary


Presidential Powers


        Formal powers are granted in Article II of the Constitution.


         Informal sources of power include the president’s personal exercise of power, the immediate needs of the nation, and public mandates.


         Powers can be limited by Congress, the federal courts, the bureaucracy, and by public opinion.


Roles of the President


         Head of State—Performs ceremonial roles


         Chief Executive—Sees that laws of Congress are carried out


         Chief Legislator—Proposes legislation


         Economic Planner—Prepares federal budget


         Party Leader—Supports party members


         Chief Diplomat—Directs foreign policy


         Commander in Chief—Commands armed forces of the United States


Presidential Leadership Skills


       Understanding of the public


         Ability to communicate


         Sense of timing


         Openness to new ideas


         Ability to compromise


         Political courage