The Powers of the President
In contrast to the many powers it gives Congress, the Constitution gives the president few specific powers. In fact, most of Article 2, which deals with the executive, is related to succession and impeachment procedures, not the way elections, terms and positions are made, and what the president can do. The powers of the president are not limited to those recognized by the Constitution. Presidential powers have expanded through the concept of unique powers (see section on unique powers later in this chapter), as well as legislative action.
The power of treaties
The president has authority to negotiate treaties with countries. However, these formal international agreements will not enter into force until they are ratified by a two-thirds Senate vote. Most treaties are routinely passed, but the Senate has ended World War I, rejected the Treaty of Versailles (1919) signed by President Woodrow Wilson, and more recently refused to act under President Jimmy Carter’s SALT II Convention on Arms Restrictions (1979).
The president selects many people serving in government from a wide range of offices—the most important of which are ambassadors, Supreme Court members and federal courts, and cabinet chiefs. More than 2,000 of these positions require confirmation (approval) by the Senate under the provisions of the “Advice and Consent” of the Constitution. Confirmation hearings are controversial, as are those of Clarence Thomas, nominated for President George H.W. Bush’s Supreme Court. Sometimes appointments to ambassadors are given as rewards for loyal service to the president’s political party or important campaign contributions. Such appointments are considered sponsorship.
The president is authorized to build a bill. The president usually describes the administration’s legislative agenda in a State of the Union address given to a joint session of Congress every January. The president’s veto is an important control in Congress. If the president votes on the bill, an annulment of the veto would require a two-thirds vote in both chambers that would be difficult to achieve.
Other specific forces
The president may convene Congress for a special session and postpone Congress if the House and Senate cannot reach an agreement on an end date. The president is also empowered to grant pardons for federal crimes (excluding repression). President Gerald Ford granted a pardon for the crimes that former President Richard Nixon may have committed while in office, and was able to do so because Nixon resigned before impaching charges were filed.
The inherent power can be deduced from the Constitution. Based on the great role of the constitution in giving the president foreign policy — the authority to negotiate treaties, appoint and receive ambassadors — President George Washington declared that the United States would remain neutral in the 1793 war between France and Britain. To make foreign policy, the president also signed executive agreements with other countries that do not require Senate action. The Supreme Court determined that these agreements were within the inherent authority of the president.
Under executive privilege, the President determines when information developed within the executive department cannot be given to Congress or the courts. The claim to executive privilege is based on the separation of powers, the need to protect diplomatic and military secrets, and the idea that those around the president should be free to give sincere advice. Many presidents have called executive privilege, including investigations into the dismissal of several U.S. attorneys, including Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
As commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the president sent U.S. troops into combat and combat situations without Congressional permission. The experience of the Vietnam War led to the War Powers Act (1973), which requires the president to consult Congress and withdraw troops after 60 days unless Congress explicitly approves its continued deployment. Congress approved the use of force in Iraq in 2002. But as opposition to the war grew, Congress found it difficult to get the president to change policy because he didn’t have enough time to cut off all the funds for the conflict.
Inherent power allows the president to respond to crises. Examples include Abraham Lincoln’s response to the Civil War, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s response to the Great Depression and World War II, and George W. Bush’s response to the events of 9/11. Presidential actions based on unique powers may be restricted by law or declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
Congress empowered the executive in the field of domestic politics. President Franklin D. Roosevelt sought and received special authority to do what he thought was necessary to drive the country out of recession. Congress has created new cabinet departments and federal agencies that have given the president and executives broad authority to address issues such as education, well-being, the environment and, more recently, national security. This trend during the 20th century is an increase in presidential powers at the expense of Congress.