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The President of the United States is the most powerful wo/man in the world. There are few limits to what s/he can do. The Constitution created the institution of the presidency in 1789, power of the president has gradually grown from what was first envisioned. The presidential powers were set up to be limited by separation of powers into three branches of government, by the checks and balances scribed in the constitution, by federal systems, political parties and the media. The president is elected for a four-year term in office, maximum of eight years. Framers of the Articles of Confederation felt that liberty could only be enjoyed with checks set up by an executive branch of government. The Constitution guarantees the presidency power as chief of state, chief executor, commander and chief, chief legislator, and chief diplomat.
As chief of state, the president is head of state and government, which overflows into the position as chief executive. The head of government manages the organization of the executive branch of the government. The executive branch of the government includes fourteen cabinet departments, and sixty executive and regulatory agencies. Many countries have a Prime Minister and a monarch to oversee the government. The monarch’s job is the head of state, and the Prime Minister would be head of government. The president is the administrator of the people’s power, and the figurehead for the nation. The chief executive has the power to grant reprieves and pardons to citizens for infractions against the United States. The bureaucracy is often inflexible for the president.
The president is commander and chief of the US armed forces. The president reserves the right to order all wars and full dispatch of the armed forces. The commander-in-chief power has been cited to justify commitment of the armed forces to scores of short-term hostilities. In 1973 Congress passed the War Power Act it states the president has to report to Congress the use of military force with in forty-eight hours, must report to Congress if the combat lasts more than sixty days, and Congress holds the right to withdraw troops at once, which is not subject to presidential veto. The constitution states that Congress has power to declare war, they have not done so since 1941. The powers granted to the president as commander and chief are vast. Since s/he has to contend with Congress and the bureaucracy their power can weaken.
Chief Legislator of the United States can address the nation to tell the American public their new legislative program. If the counter party primarily controls Congress, the president holds little to no power in the legislative office.
The president’s role as chief diplomat of the United States requires the direct communication with leaders of other countries, and to promotion the interests of the United States abroad. To ensure the United States does not appear divided to the rest of the world the president is allowed to use his own discretion with regard to foreign policy. The Constitution does not clearly describe the role of the president in foreign policy. It states that the president can make treaties and receive and appoint foreign ambassadors, with the requirement that they have to be approved by a two-thirds vote of the Senate. The president also has the power to acknowledge foreign governments. The United States refused to acknowledge the Soviet Union until after the Russian Revolution. This two-thirds rule has often driven presidents to use executive agreements instead. The term executive agreement is not in the Constitution. They are agreements between the president and foreign leaders that do not require Senate approval. The president’s power is only weakened in this area if Congress intervenes.
Like other kinds of power, formal presidential power cannot always be used in all its fullness. Several major factors determine the way presidents exert power at any given time. A president needs opportunities for using power. Presidents have employed their powers most fully in visible major crises, such as the Civil War and the world wars, and in grave economic emergency such as the Great Depression of the 1930s, when one-fourth of the workforce was unemployed. When crises are less obvious, as in the energy crisis of the 1970s, the president may have difficulty persuading the public and Congress of the necessity for serious action.
The President has roles that were not stated in the constitution, chief of party, and the media. The president relies heavily on his personal and political skills for these roles. Personality characteristics cause a president to work very hard, but without being attuned to public sentiment. The strivings of these individuals may become so compulsive as to lead to the rigid and futile pursuit of a policy. President Wilson, for example, took an absolute stand on the League of Nations, rejecting compromises that might have saved much of his project in the Senate. How the president uses power may also depend on the president’s own conception of the office. Some presidents, such as Buchanan or Taft have interpreted their powers narrowly, declining to act unless power was specifically granted in the Constitution or in statutes. At the other extreme are the presidents who, like Roosevelt, felt constrained in their positions only by what is expressly forbidden by the Constitution. Public opinion has a great impact on the president’s decisions, s/he can not make all people happy with one decision. Often president’s have to consider their actions effects on their political party.
The presidential office is protected by a rigorous impeachment procedure. Conviction requires a two-thirds vote of the senators present. President Nixon, facing impeachment and almost certain conviction, became the first president to resign. President Ford, exercising the president’s pardoning power, pardoned Nixon for all federal crimes that he committed or may have committed or taken part in. Johnson and Clinton were the only two presidents to be impeached and win acquittal. Clinton won by a larger margin than Johnson did.
Presidents also claim to possess executive privilege, or the right to withhold information from Congress and the public. In court proceedings concerning Watergate, President Nixon and Whitewater, President Clinton sought withhold evidence from the Supreme Court. The courts ruled that executive privilege did not immunize either of them from judicial proceedings.
After the long drawn out and eventually unpopular Vietnam War and the excesses of Watergate, the presidency passed into an era of criticism and reassessment. The office was seen to have become inordinately powerful and to be threatening or violating civil liberties. It was viewed as having placed the political system in disarray by drawing excessive power to the presidency at the expense of the other branches. All too often the presidency’s power expands by congressional default by the disinclination of the legislature to deal directly with national problems. The bureaucracy of the executive branch has shown itself incapable of a great deal of initiative, addicted to established routines and averse to new ideas with their accompanying risks of failure, the bureaucracy has preferred to leave innovation to the White House staff. This in turn has perhaps encouraged presidential subordinates to use and abuse their power in ways that are symptomatic of the presidency’s excesses.
In the late 1970s, however, public sentiment began to call for a more assertive presidency that could provide greater leadership to a fragmented and interest ridden Congress and that could act decisively on the array of stubborn problems that troubled Americans. President Jimmy Carter’s inability to guide many of his legislative initiatives through Congress weakened his administration. Carter’s successor, Ronald Reagan, who won two landslide election victories, was notably more successful in getting Congress to do his bidding, especially in the areas of increased military spending and tax reform. However, the Reagan administration stumbled into the Iran Contra Affair. In effect the appropriations process was bypassed, a grave violation of the Constitution.
Congress became more assertive after Watergate, passing the War Powers act and other measures to control presidential abuses. It also created its own Budget Office to sharpen its annual review of the budget. Congress employed the appropriations power to constrain presidential initiatives in foreign affairs, with consequences that could be seen in the chief executive’s limited responses to military crises in Angola and Zaire. Congress enlarged its own body of experts on committee staffs, in the General Accounting Office, in the Congressional Budget Office, and in the offices of individual legislators and committees, enhancing its ability to challenge the bureaucracies of the executive departments.
The presidency was created with broad controls, the people in the position learned how to get around the controls. Presidents have enlarged their power in relations with Congress. Early presidents only used the veto when they felt legislation was unconstitutional. Since Nixon, the practice of the veto has been widely expanded. The powers of the president are relative, when dealing with certain policies s/he has little power, also the power allowed has to deal with the state of the nation.
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