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President of the United States

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President of the
United States of America
Seal of the President of the United States.svg
Flag of the President of the United States of America.svg
Official Portrait of President Donald Trump.jpg
Incumbent
Donald Trump

since January 20, 2017 (2017-01-20)
Executive Branch of the U.S. Government
Executive Office of the President
Style Mr. President
(informal)[1][2]
The Honorable
(formal)[3]
His Excellency[4][5][6]
(international correspondence)
Member of Cabinet
Domestic Policy Council
National Economic Council
National Security Council
Residence White House
Seat Washington, D.C.
Appointer Electoral College of the United States
Term length Four-year term renewable once (Amendment XXII)
Constituting instrument United States Constitution
Inaugural holder George Washington
Formation March 4, 1789
(228 years ago)
 (1789-03-04)[7][8]
Salary $400,000 annually[note 1][9]
Website WhiteHouse.gov

The President of the United States (abbreviated as POTUS (POE-tus)[note 2]) is the head of state and head of government of the United States of America. The president directs the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces.

In contemporary times, the U.S. President is looked upon as the world's most powerful political figure; he is the leader of the only current global superpower.[11][12][13][14] The role includes responsibility for the world's most expensive military that has the second largest nuclear arsenal; the President also leads the nation with the largest economy by nominal GDP. The chief executive possesses significant domestic and international hard and soft power.

Article II of the Constitution establishes the executive branch of the federal government. It vests the executive power of the United States in the president. The power includes the execution and enforcement of federal law, alongside the responsibility of appointing federal executive, diplomatic, regulatory and judicial officers, and concluding treaties with foreign powers with the advice and consent of the Senate. The president is further empowered to grant federal pardons and reprieves, and to convene and adjourn either or both houses of Congress under extraordinary circumstances.[15] The president is largely responsible for dictating the legislative agenda of the party to which the president is a member. The president also directs the foreign and domestic policies of the United States.[16] In addition, as part of the system of checks and balances, Article One of the United States Constitution gives the president the power to sign or veto federal legislation. Since the office of President was established in 1789, its power has grown substantially, as has the power of the federal government as a whole.[17]

Through the Electoral College, the registered voters indirectly elect the president and vice president to a four-year term. This is the only national federal election and the only election that is not decided by popular vote.[18] Nine vice presidents became president by virtue of a president's intra-term death or resignation.[note 3]

The Twenty-second Amendment precludes any United States citizen from being elected president for a third term. It also prohibits a person from being elected to the presidency more than once if that person previously had served as president, or acting president, for more than two years of another person's term as president. In all, 44 individuals have served 45 presidencies (counting Grover Cleveland's two non-consecutive terms separately) spanning 57 full four-year terms.[19] Incumbent Donald Trump was inaugurated on January 20th, 2017.

Origin

During the American Revolution in 1776, the Thirteen Colonies, acting through the Second Continental Congress, declared political independence from Great Britain. The new states were independent of each other as nation states[20] and recognized the necessity of closely coordinating their efforts against the British.[21] Congress desired to avoid anything that remotely resembled a monarchy and negotiated the Articles of Confederation to establish an alliance between the states.[20] Under the Articles, Congress was a central authority without any legislative power. It could make its own resolutions, determinations, and regulations, but not any laws, and could not impose any taxes or enforce local commercial regulations upon its citizens.[21] This institutional design reflected how Americans believed the deposed British system of Crown and Parliament ought to have functioned with respect to the royal dominion: a superintending body for matters that concerned the entire empire.[21] The states were out from under any monarchy and assigned some formerly royal prerogatives (e.g., making war, receiving ambassadors, etc.) to Congress; the remaining prerogatives were lodged within their own respective state governments. The states agreed to a resolution that settled competing western land claims. The Articles took effect on March 1, 1781, when Maryland became the final state to ratify them.

In 1783, the Treaty of Paris secured independence for each of the former colonies. With peace at hand, the states each turned toward their own internal affairs.[20] By 1786, Americans found their continental borders besieged and weak and their respective economies in crises as neighboring states agitated trade rivalries with one another. They witnessed their hard currency pouring into foreign markets to pay for imports, their Mediterranean commerce preyed upon by North African pirates, and their foreign-financed Revolutionary War debts unpaid and accruing interest.[20] Civil and political unrest loomed.

Following the successful resolution of commercial and fishing disputes between Virginia and Maryland at the Mount Vernon Conference in 1785, Virginia called for a trade conference between all the states, set for September 1786 in Annapolis, Maryland, with an aim toward resolving further-reaching interstate commercial antagonisms. When the convention failed for lack of attendance due to suspicions among most of the other states, Alexander Hamilton led the Annapolis delegates in a call for a convention to offer revisions to the Articles, to be held the next spring in Philadelphia. Prospects for the next convention appeared bleak until James Madison and Edmund Randolph succeeded in securing George Washington's attendance to Philadelphia as a delegate for Virginia.[20][22]

When the Constitutional Convention convened in May 1787, the 12 state delegations in attendance (Rhode Island did not send delegates) brought with them an accumulated experience over a diverse set of institutional arrangements between legislative and executive branches from within their respective state governments. Most states maintained a weak executive without veto or appointment powers, elected annually by the legislature to a single term only, sharing power with an executive council, and countered by a strong legislature.[20] New York offered the greatest exception, having a strong, unitary governor with veto and appointment power elected to a three-year term, and eligible for reelection to an indefinite number of terms thereafter.[20] It was through the closed-door negotiations at Philadelphia that the presidency framed in the U.S. Constitution emerged.

Powers and duties

Article I legislative role

President Ronald Reagan signs the Martin Luther King bill, 1983.

The Presentment Clause requires that any bill passed by Congress must be presented to the president before it can become law. Once the legislation has been presented, the president has three options:

  1. Sign the legislation within ten days, excluding Sundays – the bill becomes law.
  2. Veto the legislation within the above timeframe and return it to the house of Congress from which it originated, expressing any objections – the bill does not become law, unless both houses of Congress vote to override the veto by a two-thirds vote.
  3. Take no action on the legislation within the above timeframe – the bill becomes law, as if the president had signed it, unless Congress is adjourned at the time, in which case it does not become law (a pocket veto).

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. Congress could then repass that particular item. If the president then vetoed the new legislation, Congress could override the veto by its ordinary means, a two-thirds vote in both houses. In Clinton v. City of New York, 524 U.S. 417 (1998), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled such a legislative alteration of the veto power to be unconstitutional.

Article II executive powers

War and foreign affairs powers

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, successfully preserved the Union during the American Civil War

One of the most important of all executive powers is the president's role as commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces. The power to declare war is constitutionally vested in Congress, but the president has ultimate responsibility for the direction and disposition of the military. The present-day operational command of the Armed Forces is delegated to the Department of Defense and is normally exercised through the Secretary of Defense. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Combatant Commands assist with the operation as outlined in the presidentially approved Unified Command Plan (UCP).[23][24][25] The framers of the Constitution took care to limit the president's powers regarding the military; Alexander Hamilton explained this in Federalist No. 69:

The President is to be commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States. ... It would amount to nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the military and naval forces ... while that [the power] of the British king extends to the DECLARING of war and to the RAISING and REGULATING of fleets and armies, all [of] which ... would appertain to the legislature.[26] [Emphasis in the original.]

Pursuant to the War Powers Resolution, Congress must authorize any troop deployments longer than 60 days, although that process relies on triggering mechanisms that have never been employed, rendering it ineffectual.[27] Additionally, Congress provides a check to presidential military power through its control over military spending and regulation. Presidents have historically initiated the process for going to war,[28][29] but critics have charged that there have been several conflicts in which presidents did not get official declarations, including Theodore Roosevelt's military move into Panama in 1903,[28] the Korean War,[28] the Vietnam War,[28] and the invasions of Grenada in 1983[30] and Panama in 1990.[31]

The president also directs U.S. foreign policy. Through the Department of State and the Department of Defense, the president is responsible for the protection of Americans abroad and of foreign nationals in the United States. The president decides whether to recognize new nations and new governments, and negotiates treaties with other nations, which become binding on the United States when approved by two-thirds vote of the Senate.[citation needed]

Administrative powers

Suffice it to say that the President is made the sole repository of the executive powers of the United States, and the powers entrusted to him as well as the duties imposed upon him are awesome indeed.
William Rehnquist, Nixon v. General Services Administration, 433 U.S. 425 (1977) (dissenting opinion)

The president is the head of the executive branch of the federal government and is constitutionally obligated to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed".[32] The executive branch has over four million employees, including members of the military.[33]

Presidents make numerous executive branch appointments: an incoming president may make up to 6,000 before taking office and 8,000 more while serving. Ambassadors, members of the Cabinet, and other federal officers, are all appointed by a president with the "advice and consent" of a majority of the Senate. When the Senate is in recess for at least ten days, the president may make recess appointments.[34] Recess appointments are temporary and expire at the end of the next session of the Senate.

The power of a president to fire executive officials has long been a contentious political issue. Generally, a president may remove executive officials purely at will.[35] However, Congress can curtail and constrain a president's authority to fire commissioners of independent regulatory agencies and certain inferior executive officers by statute.[36]

The president possesses additional powers to direct the executive branch through executive orders that are grounded in federal law or executive power that is constitutionally vested. Executive orders are reviewable by federal courts and can be superseded by federal legislation and Supreme Court decisions.

To manage the growing federal bureaucracy, Presidents have gradually surrounded themselves with many layers of staff, who were eventually organized into the Executive Office of the President of the United States. Within the Executive Office, the President's innermost layer of aides (and their assistants) are located in the White House Office.

President also has "unreviewable authority" over the matters of immigration and can ban entry to the USA of foreign nationals who have no “credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States” at will.[37][38]

Juridical powers

The president also has the power to nominate federal judges, including members of the United States courts of appeals and the Supreme Court of the United States. However, these nominations require Senate confirmation. Securing Senate approval can provide a major obstacle for presidents who wish to orient the federal judiciary toward a particular ideological stance. When nominating judges to U.S. district courts, presidents often respect the long-standing tradition of senatorial courtesy. Presidents may also grant pardons and reprieves. Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon a month after taking office. Bill Clinton pardoned Patty Hearst on his last day in office, as is often done just before the end of a presidential term, but not without controversy.[39][40][41]

Historically, two doctrines concerning executive power have developed that enable the president to exercise executive power with a degree of autonomy. The first is executive privilege, which allows the president to withhold from disclosure any communications made directly to the president in the performance of executive duties. George Washington first claimed the privilege when Congress requested to see Chief Justice John Jay's notes from an unpopular treaty negotiation with Great Britain. While not enshrined in the Constitution, or any other law, Washington's action created the precedent for the privilege. When Richard Nixon tried to use executive privilege as a reason for not turning over subpoenaed evidence to Congress during the Watergate scandal, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683 (1974), that executive privilege did not apply in cases where a president was attempting to avoid criminal prosecution. When President Bill Clinton attempted to use executive privilege regarding the Lewinsky scandal, the Supreme Court ruled in Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681 (1997), that the privilege also could not be used in civil suits. These cases established the legal precedent that executive privilege is valid, although the exact extent of the privilege has yet to be clearly defined. Additionally, federal courts have allowed this privilege to radiate outward and protect other executive branch employees, but have weakened that protection for those executive branch communications that do not involve the president.[42]

The state secrets privilege allows the president and the executive branch to withhold information or documents from discovery in legal proceedings if such release would harm national security. Precedent for the privilege arose early in the 19th century when Thomas Jefferson refused to release military documents in the treason trial of Aaron Burr and again in Totten v. United States 92 U.S. 105 (1876), when the Supreme Court dismissed a case brought by a former Union spy.[43] However, the privilege was not formally recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court until United States v. Reynolds 345 U.S. 1 (1953), where it was held to be a common law evidentiary privilege.[44] Before the September 11 attacks, use of the privilege had been rare, but increasing in frequency.[45] Since 2001, the government has asserted the privilege in more cases and at earlier stages of the litigation, thus in some instances causing dismissal of the suits before reaching the merits of the claims, as in the Ninth Circuit's ruling in Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc.[44][46][47] Critics of the privilege claim its use has become a tool for the government to cover up illegal or embarrassing government actions.[48][49]

Legislative facilitator

The Constitution's Ineligibility Clause prevents the President (and all other executive officers) 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. Additionally, the president may attempt to have Congress alter proposed legislation by threatening to veto that legislation unless requested changes are made.

In the 20th century, critics charged that too many legislative and budgetary powers that should have belonged to Congress had slid into the hands of presidents. As the head of the executive branch, presidents control a vast array of agencies that can issue regulations with little oversight from Congress. One critic charged that presidents could appoint a "virtual army of 'czars' – each wholly unaccountable to Congress yet tasked with spearheading major policy efforts for the White House".[50] Presidents have been criticized for making signing statements when signing congressional legislation about how they understand a bill or plan to execute it.[51] This practice has been criticized by the American Bar Association as unconstitutional.[52] Conservative commentator George Will wrote of an "increasingly swollen executive branch" and "the eclipse of Congress".[53]

According to Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution, the president may convene either or both houses of Congress. If both houses cannot agree on a date of adjournment, the president may appoint a date for Congress to adjourn. For example, Franklin Delano Roosevelt convened a special session of Congress immediately after the December 7, 1941, Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Habor and asked for a declaration of war.

Ceremonial roles

President Woodrow Wilson throws out the ceremonial first ball on Opening Day, 1916

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.[54]

The President of the United States has served as the honorary president of the Boy Scouts of America since the founding of the organization.[55]

Other presidential traditions are associated with American holidays. Rutherford B. Hayes began in 1878 the first White House egg rolling for local children.[56] Beginning in 1947, during the Harry S. Truman administration, every Thanksgiving the president is presented with a live domestic turkey during the annual National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation held at the White House. Since 1989, when the custom of "pardoning" the turkey was formalized by George H. W. Bush, the turkey has been taken to a farm where it will live out the rest of its natural life.[57]

Presidential traditions also involve the president's role as head of government. Many outgoing presidents since James Buchanan traditionally give advice to their successor during the presidential transition.[58] Ronald Reagan and his successors have also left a private message on the desk of the Oval Office on Inauguration Day for the incoming president.[59]

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.[60] This is followed by a state dinner given by the president which is held in the State Dining Room later in the evening.[61]

The modern presidency holds the president as one of the nation's premier celebrities. Some argue that images of the presidency have a tendency to be manipulated by administration public relations officials as well as by presidents themselves. One critic described the presidency as "propagandized leadership" which has a "mesmerizing power surrounding the office".[62] Administration public relations managers staged carefully crafted photo-ops of smiling presidents with smiling crowds for television cameras.[63] One critic wrote the image of John F. Kennedy was described as carefully framed "in rich detail" which "drew on the power of myth" regarding the incident of PT 109[64] and wrote that Kennedy understood how to use images to further his presidential ambitions.[65] As a result, some political commentators have opined that American voters have unrealistic expectations of presidents: voters expect a president to "drive the economy, vanquish enemies, lead the free world, comfort tornado victims, heal the national soul and protect borrowers from hidden credit-card fees".[66]

Critics of presidency's evolution

The nation's Founding Fathers expected the Congress—which was the first branch of government described in the Constitution—to be the dominant branch of government; they did not expect a strong executive department.[67] However, presidential power has shifted over time, which has resulted in claims that the modern presidency has become too powerful,[68][69] unchecked, unbalanced,[70] and "monarchist" in nature.[71] Critic Dana D. Nelson believes presidents over the past thirty years have worked towards "undivided presidential control of the executive branch and its agencies".[72] She criticizes proponents of the unitary executive for expanding "the many existing uncheckable executive powers – such as executive orders, decrees, memorandums, proclamations, national security directives and legislative signing statements – that already allow presidents to enact a good deal of foreign and domestic policy without aid, interference or consent from Congress".[72] Activist Bill Wilson opined that the expanded presidency was "the greatest threat ever to individual freedom and democratic rule".[73]

Selection process

George Washington, the first President of the United States

Eligibility

Article II, Section 1, Clause 5 of the Constitution sets the following qualifications for holding the presidency:

A person who meets the above qualifications is still disqualified from holding the office of president under any of the following conditions:

  • Under the Twenty-second Amendment, no person can be elected president more than twice. The amendment also specifies that if any eligible person serves as president or acting president for more than two years of a term for which some other eligible person was elected president, the former can only be elected president once. Scholars disagree over whether a person precluded by the Twenty-second Amendment to being elected president is also precluded from being vice president.[74]
  • Under Article I, Section 3, Clause 7, upon conviction in impeachment cases, the Senate has the option of disqualifying convicted individuals from holding federal office, including that of president.[75]
  • Under Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment, no person who swore an oath to support the Constitution, and later rebelled against the United States, can become president. However, this disqualification can be lifted by a two-thirds vote of each house of Congress.

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. The most common previous profession of U.S. presiden