Presidential Powers views
On January 17th in 1991, most of the nation’s newspapers looked something like this one. It seems that president Bush had committed almost a half American troops to the Middle East, with the stated purpose of liberating the tiny country of Kuwait. It didn’t matter that most Americans didn’t know where Kuwait was, or that Kuwait was one of the least democratic countries in the region. Saddam had had his warning, and now it was time for him to go. In the end, it was great success for the American military and a great success for President Bush. His popularity at about 90%. The price of gas at the pump about a dollar a gallon.
It did set up a constitutional crisis in this country. Did the president have the power to commit American troops to war? All of this started weeks before that and it were something like this.
During the summer while congress was away, the president had committed the troops. But when a 102nd congress reconvened on January, just 13 days before the onset of war, Senate majority leader George Mitchell, rose and opposed the war and opposed President Bush and said, “You don’t have the power to do this.” The justice department disagreed and it set off this constitutional crisis.
The case went to court when 54 congress people actually filed suit and went to court to try to stop the president by filing an injunction, a stop order. The court in the end after hearing the justice departments arguments that there was ample precedence for this, decided there wasn’t really a matter for the court, that it needed to be settled by the executive and the congress. Again the check and balance of the constriction.
In the end, there was a very tense three-day debate in the congress of the United States. People lined up for hours to get seats in the gallery of the senate and the house. People spoke in favor. You need to support the troops, you need to support the president, what does it say to the world if we don’t support the president now? One representative David Banyan said, “Think about it as if your son or your daughter were the ones being sent. Is this a war worth fighting in that regard?” In the end was a very close vote 52 for 47 down and the war went forward.
In this episode we’re going to talk about the power if the executive. We’re going to talk about the formal powers of the executive. We’re going to talk about some of the informal powers. And we’ll finish it, by talking about how the powers of the executive have expanded in recent years.
Let’s go over the basics first. You know that the president much be at least 35 years old. Must been a citizen for 14 years and must be born a natural born American citizen. The oldest American president, that would be Ronald Regan wanging at 69 years old. The youngest Teddy Roosevelt 42, John Kennedy was 43, the youngest American elected president. The only president who served more than two terms, Franklin Roosevelt, who was elected in 1932 and was re-elected 3 times up until the conclusion of World War II. Teddy Roosevelt actually had been had been the first president to run for a 3rd term under the Bull Moose Party in 1912, but George Washington had pretty well set the president to and out and it had been followed for the entire 19th century.
Now after Roosevelt left office or after he died, and after the World War II, a constitution amendment was passed, the 22nd amendment. You should know that one and put that away in your scheme. Two full terms to be American president. But it also allows for a president to finish up to one half of the term of the preceding president meaning possibly 10 years. How could that happen? Think about it.
Right here we have the newspaper the day after John Kennedy was murdered. You see the little picture of Lyndon Johnson in the corner and he served less than one half of Kennedy's term. He could serve the rest of Kennedy’s term, he could serve two terms of his own and some of you may have seen the film for it in 1968, when Johnson said, “I will not seek the nomination of my party.”
When he resigned, Gerald Ford became the president. You see whose picture there as well. Nixon had not served half his term. So Ford could have finished that term and had only one term in the office. You got that one? Let’s go back a second and go to the 25th amendment, presidential disability.
It came into consciousness or the American political consciousness that, what happened when the president was disabled? No one really knew. John Garfield had been wounded and lay near death for 80 days in 1880. Ison Howard had had a heart attack. Woodrow Wilson had had a stroke, and nothing was really known about what the procedure would be.
You should know the 25th amendment. If the president becomes disabled or knows that he would become disabled, he can sign over power to the vice president, that’s a simple thing. When he’s ready to take back power, he signs it back that’s it. What happens if like in the case of Ronald Regan, when he was short by John Hinckley what happens when the president isn’t necessarily able to sign power to his vice president? What do we do then? Well in that case, the 25th amendment says that there shall be the vice president and a majority of the cabinet that sign a document that says the president is disabled. When the president is ready to reclaim power, all he needs to do is to cert that power. If there’s a disagreement between the president and the cabinet and the vice president, the case will be resolved in congress within the next 21 days. 35 years old 22nd amendment, 25th amendment.
The constitution lays out five formal duties of the executive. First of all, we’ve done plenty of talking about the Commander-In-Chief, you should be very well vast in that. Please note that, the power of the president has increased naturally, because now we of course live in the nuclear world. Someone could push a button and there could be an incoming nuclear attack before this episode is over. And certainly congress is not going to be able to convene and there’s been recognition of this in terms of shifting the more power to the executive.
Think about also when also you should know that, before the Vietnam War there was something called the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Congress gave the power for the president to act in Vietnam in 1964. It passed overwhelmingly with a 98 to 2 vote in the senate, and unanimously in the House of Representatives. It gave the president, in this case President Johnson, the authority to act. Well it turned out that really the American warships in the Gulf of Tonkin hadn't been attacked, but that really wants the point.
At the end of the Vietnam War congress felt like it had given too much power to the president and when the war had gone badly things came back in the other way when congress passed something called the War Powers Act. Last year’s AP exam asked the question about the War Powers Act, you’re absolutely going to need to know something about it. We’re not going to go in to great detail about it, but check your bonus materials for the full fact of war powers. You should know this though, it has never been tested in court and it is never been used by congress.
The president is also the Chief Legislator. When the president proposes a budget, in a way that’s the blue print for the legislation. Just look at President Bush’s legislation for the last 8 years. No child left behind, is a plan that came from President Bush. The energy policy that re-emphasized the possibility of using offshore oil, or coal, or other sources of energy, again, from this president. These are kind of programs we’re looking for. How much money will go to each department? That’s essential. The President is the Chief Legislator.
The president is also the Chief Diplomat. The president actually has the power as the Chief Diplomat. A president can to go to another country and can enter into agreements with foreign leaders. There are some restrictions to that though. For example, in the 1980s Ronald Regan met with Mikhail Gorbachev and said that he implicitly trusted him and then he said something like trust but verify. Apparently, they had already made a deal to try and demilitarize and to try to take down the number of nuclear war heads in the world. Well, Regan didn’t really have the power to do that because as you know from the constitution, senate says it has the last say to ratify any kind of treaty and all of that got mixed. The president can enter into something called executive agreements. And when he does that, in order to protect American property or to protect American troops, the senate does not have a say.
The president is also the Chief Executive. Four million people work in the executive branch of government. In a later episode on the bureaucracy, we’re going to go through the structure of it all. You should know about the 15 cabinet positions and something we'll call the inner cabinet. We’ve got the Attorney General, we’ve got the Head of the State Department, we’ve got the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of the Treasury and Homeland Security, are pretty much the five most important positions. Of the 15, the last two are Homeland Security and Veteran Affairs, have happened during your lifetime.
There’s also a whole bit of government that happens in the West Wing. Perhaps you’ve seen the show the West Wing and if so, it’s probably to your benefit. There’s a Chief of Staff, who’s is the gate keeper to the president. There are policy advisors, and the national security advisor as well and the independent agencies but we’ll leave that for the bureaucracy in chapter 11.
The president acts as the Head of State. The constitution gives the power to the president to inform the nation of the progress of the nation from time to time, we call that the State of the Union. The president receives foreign leaders and foreign diplomats. They stay at the White House, they meet in the rose garden. They have formal meetings. This is the kind of power that’s given to the president.
There’s also informal powers that the president has. One of the main informal powers is that the president is head of his political party. One of George Bush's main responsibility as head of the party is to advance the party platform. Another would be, to raise money for the party. Think about it this way, congress leaves in August for their recess to go home and try to run for re-election. When there’s no congress and the president has only a few months left as president, some people call the president a lame duck. What would President Bush be doing? In all likelihood, he’s going to be flying round the country and raising money for the Republican party, for the republican candidates and doing every thing he can to advance the course of the party. Again, it’s informal power not in the constitution, but Mr. Bush will spend the latter half of 2008, working as head of the republican political party.
With that, you’ve seen the formal powers of the president and the major informal power of the president. You should also know something about the 22nd, 25th amendment and you should also know the basic qualifications. We’ll be back with the wrap up in just a second.
So by now you know the basics of presidency; the formal and informal powers. Now what I’d like you to do is check out the bonus materials. Try one of the free response questions that the College Board has offered in this regard. It might give you some good practice for your exam. And then move on to episode 10 in the judiciary, episode 11 in the bureaucracy. These together with the congress and the executive form the core of your Advanced Placement exam. We’ll see you in episode 10.