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SB Chapter 10

The Presidency

After students have read and studied this chapter they should be able to . . .

        • Identify and explain the roles of the president (including head of state, chief executive, commander in chief, chief diplomat, chief legislator, and chief of party).

        • Identify and explain the types of presidential powers:

          • Constitutional powers.

          • Statutory powers.

          • Express powers.

          • Inherent powers.

        • Define impeachment, differentiate it from conviction, and give historical examples of the process.

        • Describe the organization of the executive branch:

          • The cabinet.

          • The Executive Office of the President.

          • The White House Office.

          • The Office of Management and Budget.

          • The National Security Council.

        • Discuss the evolving role for the vice president as an advisor and successor to the president.

        • Describe the Twenty-fifth Amendment and discuss potential problems associated with it.


  1. Who Can Become President?

Article II, Section 1, of the Constitution sets forth the qualifications to be president. The two major limitations are age, a minimum of 35, and being a natural-born citizen, thus eliminating naturalized citizens. While these minimal requirements would seem to allow most people the opportunity to run, only a few individuals have had a realistic chance. Of the 43 persons who have served as president all have been white males and through 2004 only one, John Kennedy, was not a Protestant or Unitarian. A majority of the presidents have been lawyers and many have been wealthy. Still, presidential candidates have had more varied backgrounds than members of Congress.

  1. The Process Of Becoming President

Because of the two-party system in the United States, it would be exceedingly difficult for someone to be elected without the nomination of one of the two major parties. Once the candidate has received a nomination he or she must win a majority of the votes cast in the Electoral College. Each state’s allocation of electors is determined by their congressional representation (that is, the number of members of the House, plus two more for their Senators). The electors are decided in most states on a winner-take-all system, with the candidate who receives the plurality of votes winning. Thus, it is possible for a candidate to lose the popular vote but still win election as president, as was the case in 2000. Usually, however, the electoral vote serves to exaggerate the successful candidate’s margin of victory. It is possible for no candidate to receive a majority of the votes cast in the Electoral College. As long as there are only two strong candidates it is unlikely that neither would receive a simple majority of electoral votes, although there could be a tie (269-269). If no candidate receives a majority of the electoral votes, the House will elect the president by voting state by state for a candidate. This would mean that California, which has 52 representatives, would get one vote and Wyoming which has one representative, would receive one vote. Under current and foreseeable circumstances, that guarantees a Republican victory.

  1. The Many Roles of the President

Over time, the institution of the presidency has evolved into numerous formal and informal roles.

    1. Head of State. One role is ceremonial head of state. As head of state the president is afforded a status of symbolic royalty. In most countries the head of state is not the leader of government, but is a separate position such the queen in Britain or the president in Germany.

    2. Chief Executive. The president also functions as the chief executive. In this position, the president is leader of government in the executive branch. This position requires that the president administer the laws of the country.

      1. The Powers of Appointment and Removal. The president is responsible for selecting high-ranking unelected officers of the government. As a result of the civil service system, the number of political appointments is a small part of the total number of government employees—somewhat more than 5,000 positions.

      2. The Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons. Key terms: Reprieve, a formal postponement of the execution of a sentence imposed by a court of law. Pardon, a release from the punishment for or legal consequences of a crime; a pardon can be granted by the president before or after a conviction.

    3. Commander-in-Chief.

      1. Wartime Powers. The president also is commander-in-chief, or the head of the military. The founders had George Washington in mind when they assigned this responsibility. This role has become a position that has more power and responsibility than any other.

      2. The War Powers Resolution. The War Powers Resolution of 1973 requires the president to report to Congress on the use of force. Congress can require the president to withdraw forces.

    4. Chief Diplomat. As chief diplomat the president has the responsibility for setting the direction of foreign policy.

      1. Diplomatic Recognition. The president determines the governments that the United States will recognize as legitimate. The United States refused to recognize the governments of the Soviet Union and of the People’s Republic of China for decades after these communist governments came to power.

      2. Proposal and Ratification of Treaties. The president has the sole power to negotiate treaties. Two-thirds of the Senate must approve of a treaty before it goes into effect. Even if the Senate approves a treaty, it will not be valid unless the president then ratifies it.

      3. Executive Agreements. The president can also make international agreements with the heads of foreign governments. These actions are called executive agreements and they do not require the approval of the Senate, but must be reported to it. Many executive agreements are secret.

    1. Chief Legislator. Some of the powers the president has as chief legislator are prescribed in the Constitution. For example, the president gives a State of the Union message to Congress each year. Frequently this speech is used to outline the president’s legislative agenda.

      1. Getting Legislation Passed. The president attempts to persuade Congress to pass the president’s proposals. If the president is of the same party that has control of both houses of Congress it is easier for him to work with Congress on his legislative agenda. When the opposition party controls Congress, the president has a more difficult task in gaining the enactment of his proposals.

      2. Saying No to Legislation. If Congress decides to ignore the agenda, the president may attempt to stop legislation by use of the veto, although it is possible for Congress to override the veto with a two-thirds majority in each chamber.

      3. The Line-Item Veto. In 1996 Congress enacted legislation that allowed the president to use the line-item veto on bills of revenue. In 1998, the Supreme Court ruled the line-item veto unconstitutional. This law could have had a dramatic impact on the legislative process.

      4. Congress’s Power to Override Presidential Vetoes. Overall, only about 7 percent of vetoes have been over-ridden.

    2. Other Presidential Powers. These include powers that Congress has bestowed on the president by statute (statutory powers) and those that are considered inherent powers. Inherent powers are those powers the head of government needs to fulfill his duties, as prescribed vaguely in the Constitution. An example of inherent powers is the emergency powers used by the president in times of war.

  1. The President As Party Chief and Superpolitician

    1. The President as Chief of Party. To gain the enactment of the specific proposals the president has relied on the role of leader of a political party and the ability to mobilize public support for the president’s agenda. Increasingly, many party members see the president as chief campaigner and chief fundraiser. Typically, candidates for Congress and even state offices rely on the president’s ability to generate contributions to help fund their campaigns. The president also is expected to “go on the stump” and campaign for politicians of his party who are up for election. This is particularly true of incumbent members of the House and Senate who are members of the president’s party. Frequently, this is beneficial for candidates, particularly if the president is popular in the district. Presidents also have the power to reward loyal supporters with political positions or by supporting “pork.”

    1. Constituencies and Public Approval.

      1. Presidential Constituencies. These include the people of the whole country, and also the supporters of the president’s party. The Washington community, the whole body of politically active persons in the capital, can be considered as an important constituency.

      2. Public Approval. How much success the president has is, in part, influenced by the public support for the president as measured in public opinion polls.

      3. “Going Public.” When the president presents an idea to Congress, he may also “go public” in an attempt to generate popular support for his proposal.

  1. The Special Uses of Presidential Power

    1. Emergency Powers. These can be used during periods of national crisis. The United States Supreme Court enunciated these powers in the case of United States v. Curtis-Wright Export Corporation in 1936. These powers are used mostly in times of war.

    2. Executive Orders. Key concepts: Executive order, a rule or regulation issued by the president that has the effect of law. Executive orders can implement and give administrative effect to provisions in the Constitution, to treaties, and to statutes. Federal Register, a publication of the U.S. government that prints executive orders, rules, and regulations.

    3. Executive Privilege. This is the right of the president, or a member of his administration, to refuse to provide Congress with information. This action is based on the doctrine of the separation of powers.

      1. Limiting Executive Privilege. There are limits to this type of claim as was demonstrated in the case of United States v. Nixon in 1974, which held that executive privilege cannot be used to prevent evidence from being heard in criminal proceedings.

      2. Clinton’s Attempted Use of Executive Privilege. While under investigation for allegedly lying about a sexual affair, President Clinton attempted to claim executive privilege in a number of instances. The courts rejected the claims in line with United States v. Nixon.

  2. Abuses of Executive Power and Impeachment

Article I, Section 2, gives the House the sole power of impeachment. If a majority of the members of the House vote to impeach an officer of the United States, the Senate will conduct a trial. If two-thirds of the Senators vote for conviction the officer is removed from office. There have been fewer than 25 impeachments in the history of the United States and of this number only two were presidents. Andrew Johnson, who took office after the assassination of President Lincoln, was impeached by the House. The Senate conducted a trial of impeachment but did not vote to convict. President Nixon resigned his position in the face of a vote on impeachment by the House in 1974. President Bill Clinton was impeached by the House on charges he lied to a federal grand jury regarding his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, and on obstruction of justice. The Senate refused to convict Clinton. The concept of impeachment is important because without this power there would be little that could be done to control criminal behavior by a top leader. On the other hand, this power could be abused and lead to politically motivated impeachments.

  1. The Executive Organization

The structural organization of the executive branch was not outlined in detail by the founding fathers. All the Constitution provides for is a president and a vice president. The remaining structure was left to the discretion of the president and Congress. This lack of constitutional structure has allowed the executive branch to be flexible. By far the greatest growth in the executive branch has occurred in the twentieth century.

    1. The Cabinet.

      1. The Members of the Cabinet. The department secretaries and the attorney general meet to receive directives from the president, provide the president with information from their areas of specialization, and to advise the president on matters of state. The president may appoint other top officials to the cabinet, especially the vice president but also the head of the National Security Council or others. The president may also rely on the advice from close friends who do not hold a seat in government. These advisors are called the “kitchen cabinet.” This type of informal advice may be more important to a president than the advice he receives from the formal executive structure.

      2. Presidential Use of Cabinets. Some presidents have made more use of the cabinet as an advisory body than others. Often, cabinet members represent their departments to the administration, which limits their effectiveness as impartial advisers.

    2. The Executive Office of the President. This is made up of a variety of agencies that operate directly under the president:

  • White House Office.

  • White House Military Office.

  • Office of the Vice President.

  • Council of Economic Advisers.

  • Council on Environmental Quality.

  • National Security Council.

  • Office of Management and Budget.

  • Office of National AIDS Policy.

  • Office of National Drug Control Policy.

  • Office of Science and Technology Policy.

  • Office of the United States Trade Representative.

  • President’s Critical Infrastructure Protection Board

  • President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.

      1. The White House Office. This includes the legal counsel to the president, secretary, press secretary, appointments secretary, and the chief of staff. Members of this office are highly political and may be former campaign officials. Also, the White House Military Office provides communications, transportation, medical care, and food services to the president and the White House staff.

      2. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB). This agency makes up the president’s budget, and grades and judges all executive agencies.

      3. The National Security Council. The president’s key foreign and defense policy council. It includes the president, the vice president, the secretaries of state and defense, other informal members, and of the president’s national security adviser. Under George W. Bush, this official was Condoleezza Rice, the first woman so to serve.

  1. The Vice Presidency

    1. The Vice President’s Job.

      1. Strengthening the Ticket. Traditionally the presidential candidate selects a vice presidential candidate who will strengthen. This usually means the presidential candidate will select someone who is from a different geographical area and who has different constituency strengths. Sometimes candidates also will select a running mate with a different philosophical perspective. President Clinton did break with tradition in selecting Al Gore as his running mate. Both men were from the South and both were considered to be moderates within the Democratic Party. In his selection of Dick Cheney as his vice presidential running mate, President George W. Bush sought to include someone on the ticket with national political experience, who voters recognized, as who was recognized in having strengths on issues like foreign policy, that some perceived as policy area weaknesses for Bush.

      2. Supporting the President. Once elected the vice president is relegated to perform the tasks assigned by the president, which traditionally were insignificant. In recent decades, however, vice presidents have served as important presidential advisers.

    2. Presidential Succession. While the vice president has few formal obligations, there is one major obligation—replacing the president if the president resigns, dies, or is incapable of performing the duties of president. On nine occasions the vice president has replaced the president. Other than Nixon’s resignation, all have been due to the death of the president. When the vice president replaces the president, he becomes the new president with all of the powers and duties as if he had been elected. One major flaw with this system was that once the vice president became president there was no vice president. On the first seven occasions when a vice president became president there was no way for the president to select a vice president. After President Kennedy was assassinated and Vice President Johnson became the new president, Congress began to work on an amendment that would eliminate this problem.

    3. The Twenty-fifth Amendment. This was ratified in 1967 and was used twice in the next seven years. One of the more controversial provisions in the Twenty-fifth Amendment concerns the ability of the president to perform his normal duties. If the vice president and a majority of the principal officers of the executive departments (Cabinet) indicate to the leaders of Congress that the president is not capable of performing the duties of the office, the vice president shall assume power as the acting president.

    4. When the Vice Presidency Becomes Vacant. The Twenty-fifth Amendment states that a vice president replacing a president can nominate a new vice president who must be confirmed by a majority of both houses of Congress. In 1973 vice president Spiro Agnew resigned. President Nixon nominated the minority leader of the house, Gerald Ford. Ford was confirmed by both houses of Congress. In August of 1974 President Nixon resigned and was replaced by Ford.

  2. Features

    1. America’s Security—Do We Need a Democratic World to Be Safe?

A so-called—and possibly false—“law” of political science is that democracies do not go to war with each other. Presumably, a fully democratic Middle East would be safer for the United States. Many experts claim, however, that the real key to pacifying the Middle East is resolving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

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