The President’s Many Roles

Chief Executive

Chief Executive is a term commonly used to refer to Presidential powers given by the Constitution.

Learning Objectives

Identify the nature of the powers granted to the President in Article II of the Constitution

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The president has many official and unofficial roles. The formal powers and duties of the president are outlined in Article II of the Constitution.
  • As Chief Executive the president can: implement policy, supervise the executive branch of government, prepare executive budget for submission to congress, and appoint and remove executive officials.
  • The head of government is the chief officer of the executive branch of a government, often presiding over a cabinet. In presidential republics or absolute monarchies, the head of government may be the same person as the head of state, who is often also called a president or a monarch.

Key Terms

  • head of government: The chief officer of the executive branch of a government, often presiding over a cabinet; usually called Prime Minister (in a parliamentary system) or President (in a presidential system).
  • chief executive: The president of the United States.

Introduction

The president has many official and unofficial roles. The formal powers and duties of the president are outlined in Article II of the Constitution. Although the Constitution grants far fewer explicit powers to the president in Article II than it does to Congress in Article I, the ambiguity and vagueness of Article II have made it possible for presidents to expand their authority greatly beyond that specifically listed in the Constitution. The two passages in the Constitution that have provided the basis for the expansion of presidential authority are Article II, Section 1, which grants “the executive Power” to the president, and Section 3, which makes the president responsible for the enforcement of federal laws: “He shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” As a result, “unofficial” presidential roles have evolved through both history and tradition.

As Chief Executive

Chief Executive is a term used for certain gubernatorial offices, expressing the nature of their job being analogous to a head of government. It is commonly used to refer to Presidential powers given by the constitution. As Chief Executive the president can: implement policy, supervise the executive branch of government, prepare an executive budget for submission to congress, and appoint and remove executive officials.

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Obama Administration and Foreign Policy: President Barack Obama acts as the chief executive of the federal government of the United States.

As Head of Government

Head of government is the chief officer of the executive branch of a government, often presiding over a cabinet. In a parliamentary system, the head of government is often styled prime minister, chief minister, premier, etc. In presidential republics or absolute monarchies, the head of government may be the same person as the head of state, who is often also called a president or a monarch.

In a parliamentary system, the head of state is normally a different person from the head of government. This is in contrast to a presidential system in a democracy, where the head of state often is also the head of government, and most importantly: the executive branch does not derive its democratic legitimacy from the legislature. The Parliamentary system can be contrasted with a presidential system which operates under a stricter separation of powers, whereby the executive does not form part of, nor is appointed by, the parliamentary or legislative body. In such a system, congresses do not select or dismiss heads of governments, and governments cannot request an early dissolution as may be the case for parliaments. Since the legislative branch has more power over the executive branch in a parliamentary system, a notable amount of studies by political scientists have shown that parliamentary systems show lower levels of corruption than presidential systems of government.

Commander-in-Chief

A commander-in-chief is the person exercising supreme command authority of a nation’s military forces; in the US, this person is the president.

Learning Objectives

Explain the President’s position as commander-in-chief

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Civilian control of the military is a doctrine in military and political science that places ultimate responsibility for a country’s strategic decision-making in the hands of the civilian political leadership, rather than professional military officers.
  • The current commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces is Barack Obama, the 44th person to hold the position since Grover Cleveland served two non- consecutive terms as President of the United States.
  • Since 1949, the Secretary of Defense, a civil officer appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate, is by statute second in command over those armed forces which are part of the Department of Defense: the Army, Navy, Air Force, and the Marine Corps.
  • The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the U.S. chief of defense equivalent, may assist the President and Secretary of Defense in the exercise of their command functions, but the Chairman himself does not independently exercise command over any combatant forces.

Key Terms

  • commander-in-chief: A commander-in-chief is the person exercising supreme command authority over a nation’s military forces or significant element of those forces.
  • civilian control of the military: Civilian control of the military is a doctrine in military and political science that places ultimate responsibility for a country’s strategic decision-making in the hands of the civilian political leadership, rather than professional military officers.
  • chairman of the joint chiefs of staff: The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the U.S. chief of defense equivalent, may assist the President and Secretary of Defense in the exercise of their command functions, but the Chairman himself does not independently exercise command over any combatant forces.

Introduction

A commander-in-chief is the person exercising supreme command authority of a nation’s military forces or significant element of those forces. As a practical term it refers to the military competencies that reside in a nation-state’s executive, Head of State and/or Head of Government. Often, a given country’s commander-in-chief need not be or have been a commissioned officer or even a veteran, and it is by this legal statute that civilian control of the military is realized in states where it is constitutionally required. Civilian control of the military is a doctrine in military and political science that places ultimate responsibility for a country’s strategic decision-making in the hands of the civilian political leadership, rather than professional military officers.

According to Article II, Section 2, Clause I of the Constitution, the President of the United States is commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces. The current commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces is Barack Obama, the 44th person to hold the position since Grover Cleveland served two non consecutive terms as President of the United States.

U.S. President as Commander in Chief

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President Abraham Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief: President Abraham Lincoln, as commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces, with Allan Pinkerton and Major General John A. McClernand after the Battle of Antietam, 1862.

The amount of military detail handled by the President in wartime has varied dramatically. Abraham Lincoln was deeply involved in overall strategy and in day-to-day operations during the American Civil War, 1861–1865; historians have given Lincoln high praise for his strategic sense and his ability to select and encourage commanders such as Ulysses S. Grant.

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Douglas MacArthur in Manila: An immensely popular hero of World War II, General Douglas MacArthur’s public insistence on the need to expand the Korean War, over the objections of President Harry S. Truman, led to the termination of his command.

On the other hand, Woodrow Wilson paid very little attention to operational military details of World War I and had very little contact with General John J. Pershing, who commanded the armies in the field. As President throughout much of World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt, on the domestic front, used his fireside chats and the press to explain and justify his difficult wartime decisions abroad. Harry S. Truman believed in a high amount of civilian leadership of the military, making many tactical and policy decisions based on the recommendations of his advisors— including the decision to use nuclear weapons on Japan, to commit American forces in the Korean War, and to terminate Douglas MacArthur from his command.

Secretary of Defense

Since 1949, the Secretary of Defense, a civil officer appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate, is by statute second in command over those armed forces which are part of the Department of Defense: the Army, Navy, Air Force, and the Marine Corps. The operational branch of the chain of command runs from the President to the Secretary of Defense, and from the Secretary of Defense down to the combatant commanders of the unified combatant commands. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the U.S. chief of defense equivalent, may assist the President and Secretary of Defense in the exercise of their command functions, but the Chairman himself does not independently exercise command over any combatant forces.

Head of State

The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States.

Learning Objectives

Summarize the various roles performed by the President as Head of State

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Head of State is a term used in constitutional law, international law, political science, and diplomatic protocol to designate an official who holds the highest ranked position in a state. This official has the vested or implied powers to act as the chief public representative of a sovereign state.
  • A presidential system is a system of government where an executive branch is led by a president who serves as both head of state and head of government. In such a system, this branch exists separately from the legislature, to which it is not responsible and which it cannot dismiss.
  • In presidential systems, such as that of the United States, appointments are nominated at the President’s sole discretion, but this nomination is often subject to parliamentary confirmation.
  • In presidential systems the head of state often formally reports to the legislature on the present national status, as in the State of the Union address in the United States of America.

Key Terms

  • head of state: The chief public representative of a nation having duties, privileges and responsibilities varying greatly depending on the constitutional rules; a monarch in a monarchy, and often styled president in a republic, but variations such as collegiality exist.
  • presidential system: A presidential system is a system of government where an executive branch is led by a president who serves as both head of state and head of government. In such a system, this branch exists separately from the legislature, to which it is not responsible and which it cannot, in normal circumstances, dismiss.

Introduction

The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces. Head of State is a term used in constitutional law, international law, political science, and diplomatic protocol to designate an official who holds the highest ranked position in a state and has the vested or implied powers to act as the chief public representative of a sovereign state. Heads of state in most countries are natural persons holding an office, however in some countries the head of state position is held by a body of persons.

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World Head of States 1889: “The World’s Sovereigns”: A photo montage made in Europe in 1889 with the main heads of state in the world. As head of state, it is the job of each of these leaders to represent their countries.

A presidential system is a system of government where an executive branch is led by a president who serves as both head of state and head of government. In such a system, this branch exists separately from the legislature, to which it is not responsible and which it cannot, in normal circumstances, dismiss. Presidential systems are a notable feature of constitutions in the Americas, including those of the Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico and Venezuela; this is generally attributed to the strong influence of the United States in the region, and as the United States Constitution served as an inspiration and model for the Latin American wars of independence of the early 19th century.

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George Washington: George Washington, the first President of the United States, set the precedent for an executive head of state in republican systems of government.

Presidential governments make no distinction between the positions of head of state and head of government, both of which are held by the president. Many parliamentary governments have a symbolic head of state in the form of a president or monarch. That person is responsible for the formalities of state functions, or in cases where the head of state has reserve powers, the “hands off” ensuing of a functional parliament, while the constitutional prerogatives of head of government are generally exercised by the prime minister.

Head of State in the United States

In the 1870s, in the aftermath of the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson and his near-removal from office, it was speculated that the United States, too, would move from a presidential system to a semi-presidential or even parliamentary one. Under this new system, the Speaker of the House of Representatives would become the real center of government as a quasi-prime minister. This did not in fact happen. The presidency, having been damaged by three late nineteenth and early twentieth century assassinations, and one impeachment, reasserted its political dominance by the early twentieth century through such figures as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

In presidential systems, such as that of the United States, appointments are nominated by the President’s sole discretion, but this nomination is often subject to parliamentary confirmation (in the case of the US, the Senate has to approve cabinet nominees and judicial appointments by simple majority). Moreover, in presidential systems, the president often has the power to fire ministers at his sole discretion. In the United States, convention calls for cabinet secretaries to resign on their own initiative when called to do so.

Legislative Roles

It is usual that the head of state, particularly in parliamentary systems as part of the symbolic role, is the one who opens the annual sessions of the legislature, e.g. the annual State Opening of Parliament with the Speech from the Throne in Britain. Even in presidential systems the head of state often formally reports to the legislature on the present national status, e.g. the State of the Union address in the United States of America.

Ceremonial Roles

As head of state, the president can fulfill traditions established by previous presidents. William Howard Taft started the tradition of throwing out the ceremonial first pitch in 1910 at Griffith Stadium, Washington, D.C., on the Washington Senators’ Opening Day. Every president since Taft, except for Jimmy Carter, threw out at least one ceremonial first ball or pitch for Opening Day, the All-Star Game, or the World Series, usually with much fanfare.

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Wilson opening day 1916: U.S. President Woodrow Wilson throws out the ball on opening day of baseball season, 1916.

During a state visit by a foreign head of state, the president typically hosts a State Arrival Ceremony held on the South Lawn, a custom begun by John F. Kennedy in 1961. This is followed by a state dinner given by the president which is held in the State Dining Room later in the evening.

Chief Diplomat

The appointment power of the President allows him or her to appoint and receive ambassadors around the world.

Learning Objectives

Explain the President’s role as chief diplomat

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Diplomacy is the art and practice of conducting negotiations between representatives of groups or states. In an informal or social sense, diplomacy is the employment of tact to gain strategic advantage or to find mutually acceptable solutions to a common challenge.
  • The President is the nation’s chief diplomat; they have the power make treaties that are then subject to ratification by the Senate.
  • It is generally accepted that they have the President has the power as a result of their constitutional authority to “send and receive ambassadors. ” This is generally known as the ” appointment power ” of the presidency.
  • Along with naming judges, presidents appoint ambassadors and executive officers. If Congress is not in session, presidents can make temporary appointments known as recess appointments without Senate confirmation, good until the end of the next session of Congress.

Key Terms

  • diplomacy: The art and practice of conducting international relations by negotiating alliances, treaties, agreements, etc., bilaterally or multilaterally, between states and sometimes international organizations or even between policies with varying statuses, such as those of monarchs and their princely vassals.
  • appointment power: The appointment power of the presidency refers to the president’s constitutional authority to appoint and receive ambassadors to and from other countries.
  • recess appointments: Along with naming judges, presidents appoint ambassadors and executive officers. These appointments require Senate confirmation. If Congress is not in session, presidents can make temporary appointments known as recess appointments without Senate confirmation, good until the end of the next session of Congress.

Introduction

Diplomacy is the art and practice of conducting negotiations between representatives of groups or states. It usually refers to international diplomacy, the conduct of international relations through the intercession of professional diplomats with regard to issues of peacemaking, trade, war, economics, culture, environment and human rights. International treaties are usually negotiated by diplomats prior to endorsement by national politicians. In an informal or social sense, diplomacy is the employment of tact to gain strategic advantage or to find mutually acceptable solutions to a common challenge, one set of tools being the phrasing of statements in a nonconfrontational, or polite manner.

U.S. President as Chief Diplomat

Although the Constitution does not explicitly grant presidents the power to recognize foreign governments, it is generally accepted that they have this power as a result of their constitutional authority to “send and receive ambassadors. ” This is generally known as the “appointment power” of the presidency. Because the acts of sending an ambassador to a country and receiving its representative imply recognition of the legitimacy of the foreign government involved, presidents have successfully claimed exclusive authority to decide which foreign governments are recognized by the United States. It follows, then, that they have the power to terminate relations with other nations as well.

Along with naming judges, presidents appoint ambassadors and executive officers. These appointments require Senate confirmation. If Congress is not in session, presidents can make temporary appointments known as recess appointments without Senate confirmation, good until the end of the next session of Congress.

Although not constitutionally provided, presidents also sometimes employ ” executive agreements ” in foreign relations. These agreements frequently regard administrative policy choices germane to executive power; for example, the extent to which either country presents an armed presence in a given area, how each country will enforce copyright treaties, or how each country will process foreign mail. However, the 20th century witnessed a vast expansion of the use of executive agreements, and critics have challenged the extent of that use as supplanting the treaty process and removing constitutionally prescribed checks and balances over the executive in foreign relations. Supporters counter that the agreements offer a pragmatic solution when the need for swift, secret, and/or concerted action arises.

Informal Diplomacy

Informal diplomacy has been used for centuries to communicate between powers. Most diplomats work to recruit figures in other nations who might be able to give informal access to a country’s leadership. On some occasion a former holder of an official position continues to carry out an informal diplomatic activity after retirement. In some cases, governments welcome such activity, for example as a means of establishing an initial contact with a hostile state of group without being formally committed. In other cases, however, such informal diplomats seek to promote a political agenda different from that of the government currently in power. Such informal diplomacy is practiced by former US Presidents Jimmy Carter and (to a lesser extent) Bill Clinton and by the former Israeli diplomat and minister Yossi Beilin.

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James Carter Presidential Portrait: Jimmy Carter served as the thirty-ninth President of the United States from 1977 to 1981.

Chief Legislator

As chief legislator, the president may suggest, request, and insist that Congress enact laws he believes are needed.

Learning Objectives

Assess the significance of the Line Item Veto for executive power

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • As chief legislator, the president shapes policy. The Constitution is reticent about the president’s role in legislating, yet the relationship between Congress and the executive is the most important aspect of the U.S. system of government.
  • The president may suggest, request, and insist that Congress enact laws he believes are needed. He can attempt to influence Congress through promises of patronage and favors.
  • In 1996, Congress attempted to enhance the president’s veto power with the Line Item Veto Act. The legislation empowered the president to sign any spending bill into law while simultaneously striking certain spending items within the bill.
  • In Clinton v. City of New York (1998), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled such a legislative alteration of the veto power to be unconstitutional.

Key Terms

  • line item veto act: The Line Item Veto Act of 1996 enacted a line-item veto for the Federal government of the United States, but its effect was brief because the act was overturned after judicial review.
  • clinton v. city of new york: In Clinton v. City of New York (1998), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Line Item Veto Act’s expansion of veto power to be unconstitutional.
  • veto: A political right to disapprove of (and thereby stop) the process of a decision, a law, etc.
  • pocket veto: a legislative maneuver in lawmaking that allows a president or other official to unilaterally stop a bill by taking no action

Chief Legislator

The president has many official and unofficial roles. The formal powers and duties of the president are outlined in Article II of the Constitution. As chief legislator, the president shapes policy. The Constitution is reticent about the president’s role in legislating, yet the relationship between Congress and the executive is the most important aspect of the U.S. system of government. The president can gather information from the bureaucracy, present a legislative agenda to Congress, and go to the American public for support for his legislative agenda.

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President Barack Obama Signing Legislation: President Barack Obama signs legislation in the Oval Office, Dec. 22, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The president may suggest and request that Congress enact laws he believes are needed. He can attempt to influence Congress through promises of patronage and favors. He stays in touch with Congress formally through written messages and informally through private meetings, parties, and phone calls. When the president receives legislation, he decides whether to veto it, use the pocket veto, sign it, or do nothing. If the president does nothing, then if Congress is still in session ten days later it becomes law.

In 1996, Congress attempted to enhance the president’s veto power with the Line Item Veto Act. The legislation empowered the president to sign any spending bill into law while simultaneously striking certain spending items within the bill, particularly any new spending, any amount of discretionary spending, or any new limited tax benefit. Once a president had stricken the item, Congress could pass that particular item again. If the president then vetoed the new legislation, Congress could override the veto by the ordinary method of a two-thirds vote in both houses. In Clinton v. City of New York (1998), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled such a legislative alteration of the veto power to be unconstitutional.

Political Party Leader

The president is largely responsible for dictating the legislative agenda of his political party.

Learning Objectives

Describe roles that the President plays above and beyond serving as the nation’s chief executive

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Constitution ‘s Ineligibility Clause prevents the president from simultaneously being a member of Congress. Therefore, the president cannot directly introduce legislative proposals for consideration in Congress.
  • Nevertheless, the president can take an indirect role in shaping legislation, especially if the president’s political party has a majority in one or both houses of Congress.
  • The modern presidential campaign begins before the primary elections, which the two major political parties use to clear the field of candidates before their national nominating conventions, where the most successful candidate is made the party’s nominee for president.

Key Terms

  • ineligibility clause: The Constitution’s Ineligibility Clause prevents the president from simultaneously being a member of Congress. Therefore, the president cannot directly introduce legislative proposals for consideration in Congress.

Introduction

The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces. Since the founding of the United States, the power of the president and the federal government have grown substantially, and each modern president, despite possessing no formal legislative powers beyond signing or vetoing congressionally passed bills, is largely responsible for dictating the legislative agenda of his party and the foreign and domestic policy of the United States.

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Obama Taking Oath of Office: After winning the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama was sworn into office on January 20, 2009.

As Legislative Facilitator

The Constitution’s Ineligibility Clause prevents the president from simultaneously being a member of Congress. Therefore, the president cannot directly introduce legislative proposals for consideration in Congress. However, the president can take an indirect role in shaping legislation, especially if the president’s political party has a majority in one or both houses of Congress. For example, the president or other officials of the executive branch may draft legislation and then ask senators or representatives to introduce these drafts into Congress. The president can further influence the legislative branch through constitutionally mandated, periodic reports to Congress. These reports may be either written or oral, but today are given as the State of the Union Address, which often outlines the president’s legislative proposals for the coming year.

Campaigns and Nomination

The modern presidential campaign begins before the primary elections, which the two major political parties use to clear the field of candidates before their national nominating conventions, where the most successful candidate is made the party’s nominee for president. Typically, the party’s presidential candidate chooses a vice presidential nominee, and this choice is rubber stamped by the convention. Nominees participate in nationally televised debates, and while the debates are usually restricted to the Democratic and Republican nominees, third party candidates may be invited, such as Ross Perot in the 1992 debates. Nominees campaign across the country to explain their views, convince voters, and solicit contributions. Much of the modern electoral process is concerned with winning swing states through frequent visits and mass media advertising drives.