The Powers of the President

In contrast to the many powers it gives Congress, the Constitution grants few specific powers to the president. Indeed, most of Article II, which deals with the executive branch, relates to the method of election, term and qualifications for office, and procedures for succession and impeachment rather than what the president can do. The powers of the president are not limited to those granted in the Constitution. Presidential authority has expanded through the concept of inherent powers (see the section on inherent powers later in this chapter) as well as through legislative action.

Treaty power

The president has the authority to negotiate treaties with other nations. These formal international agreements do not go into effect, however, until ratified by a two-thirds vote of the Senate. Although most treaties are routinely approved, the Senate rejected the Treaty of Versailles (1919), which ended World War I and which President Woodrow Wilson had signed, and, more recently, refused to take action on President Jimmy Carter's SALT II Treaty on arms limitation (1979).

Appointment power

The president selects many people to serve the government in a wide range of offices: most important among them are ambassadors, members of the Supreme Court and the federal courts, and cabinet secretaries. More than 2,000 of these positions require confirmation (approval) by the Senate under the "advice and consent" provision of the Constitution. Confirmation hearings can become controversial, as did the hearing for Clarence Thomas, President George H. W. Bush's nominee for the Supreme Court. Sometimes appointments to ambassadorships are given as a reward for faithful service to the president's political party or for significant campaign contributions. Such appointments are considered patronage.

Legislative powers

The president is authorized to proposed legislation. A president usually outlines the administration's legislative agenda in the State of the Union address given to a joint session of Congress each January. The president's veto power is an important check on Congress. If the president rejects a bill, it takes a two-thirds vote of both houses, which is difficult to achieve, to accomplish a veto override.

Other specific powers

The president can call Congress into special session and can adjourn Congress if the House and the Senate cannot agree on a final date. The power to grant pardons for federal crimes (except impeachment) is also given to the president. President Gerald Ford pardoned former President Richard Nixon for any crimes he may have committed while in office, and he was able to do so because Nixon resigned before impeachment charges were brought.

Inherent powers

Inherent powers are those that can be inferred from the Constitution. Based on the major role the Constitution gives the president in foreign policy (that is, the authority to negotiate treaties and to appoint and receive ambassadors), President George Washington declared that the United States would remain neutral in the 1793 war between France and Great Britain. To conduct foreign policy, presidents also have signed executive agreements with other countries that do not require Senate action. The Supreme Court ruled that these agreements are within the inherent powers of the president.

Under executive privilege, the president decides when information developed within the executive branch cannot be released to Congress or the courts. A claim of executive privilege is based on the separation of powers, the need to protect diplomatic and military secrets, and the notion that people around the president must feel free to give candid advice. Many presidents have invoked executive privilege — including Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal and George W. Bush during the investigation into the firing of a number of U.S. attorneys.

As commander in chief of the armed forces, presidents have sent American troops into combat or combat situations without congressional authorization. The experience of the Vietnam War led to the War Powers Act (1973), which requires the president to consult Congress and to withdraw troops after 60 days unless Congress specifically approves their continued deployment. Congress authorized the use of force in Iraq in 2002. As opposition to the war grew, however, Congress found it difficult to compel the president to change policy by any means short of cutting off all funding for the conflict.

Inherent powers allow a president to respond to a crisis. 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 September 11. Presidential actions based on inherent powers can be limited by legislation or declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Delegation of powers

Congress has given power to the executive branch in the area of domestic policy. President Franklin Roosevelt asked for and received extraordinary authority to do what he thought was necessary to bring the country out of the Depression. Congress has created new cabinet departments and federal agencies that have given the president and the executive branch broad powers to address problems such as education, welfare, the environment, and, most recently, homeland security. The trend throughout the 20th century has been to increase presidential powers at the expense of Congress.