What can the President do?

As we prepare for another presidential debate here in the US, I wonder “What control and power does the US President actually have?”

People treat the US President as if they have absolute power; power over the economy, power over taxes, power to cure cancer?  Our democracy is a shared power, with checks and balances between the Executive (President), Judicial (Courts), and Legislative (Congress) branches of government.  So what can the president do in office:

  • Appoint heads of state departments, heads of federal agencies, and White House staff
  • Manage Foreign Affairs: appoint ambassadors, ministers, and public officials.  The President can also offer diplomatic recognize another country.  The President can sign treaties on foreign affairs, but they must be ratified by the Congress.
  • Nominate Judges:  for any of the 9 Federal Judge positions which become vacant during the presidential term, and then the Senate approves each appointment.
  • Power of Clemency: to grant pardons and blanket amnesty of criminal punishment.
  • Limited power to sends troops abroad for hostile reasons:  Congress holds the power to declare war.

    English: Seal of the Executive Office of the P...

    Seal of the Executive Office of the President of the United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Propose Legislation:  The President can make suggestions to Congress for new legislation, but cannot force the legislation into law.
  • Veto Legislation:  Laws and policy approved by Congress can be vetoed by the President.
  • Taxes:  The President makes recommendations and negotiates taxes with the House of Representatives.
  • Budgets:  Again, it’s a suggestion to Congress and a negotiation of ideals between the groups.
  • Change Roe v. Wade:  The President cannot change the ruling on rulings made by the Judicial Branch, but may have the opportunity to nominate judges who will.

As we saw under the George W. Bush administration, with expanded powers due to the state of war, if it’s not specifically disallowed, then the President may have the power to do ____.  Since the controversy over torture tactics (Boston Globe article) during the George W. Bush administration, Barack Obama created an executive order to define the list of nonabusive interrogation tactics (NYTimes article).

So it appears that the US President is more influential rather than powerful.  But it’s easy to blame one person in office, rather than the 100 or 400+ in Congress who can easily blame the resistance of each other for their failures.  So what do all those commercials really mean during this election cycle?

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