The Presidential election is the extent of most people’s political involvement. The Constitution, in order to prevent a tyrant from rising to power, lays out a network of powers that keep the executive branch (the President and Cabinet), the legislative branch (Congress), and the judicial branch (the Supreme Court) from wielding undue power.
The largest role of the President is to sign or veto bills sent by Congress. A bill that passes the House of Representatives moves to the Senate. From the Senate, it goes to the White House. The President can sign the bill and make it a law or veto it as-is. In other words, vetoing specific parts of a bill is impossible. A vetoed bill has to start the process again unless Congress overrides it by at least 66 percent of votes. The President can require Congress to convene to vote on measures the executive branch introduces.
Within certain parameters, the President can also issue what’s called an executive order. This order is a decree that directs procedures within government at the federal level. It isn’t a law; no approval by Congress is necessary. Congress can allocate or divert funding to prevent executive orders from overreaching.
Within the executive branch, the President can either appoint or dismiss members of the Cabinet and other offices at his discretion. Appointments to the Cabinet occur during a President-elect’s transition period. He also can control to some extent how procedure within the executive branch is carried out.
The power of presidential appointment also applies to the Supreme Court. The President can appoint justices when there is a vacancy due to death or resignation. The appointment has to be agreed to by both houses of the legislature.
Another power the President has as pertains to the law is to issue pardons for federal offenses. Someone who wants to be pardoned would have to submit a formal written petition and the President can either grant or deny the request. The petition in and of itself is an admission of guilt. The President issuing the pardon does not make the convicted person innocent, it only prevents punishment from being carried out.
In addition to being the head of the federal government, the President is also the head of state. Only he can receive foreign dignitaries or ambassadors.
The President is the highest authority of the armed forces. All branches of the military answer to the White House as the commander-in-chief, even though the President holds no formal rank. He can, however, commission and appoint officers in the military. While Congress reserves the right to declare war, the President has ultimate command and coordinates with the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to direct military actions within the budget set by Congress.
The War Powers Act of 1972 allows the President to order any military engagement to a maximum of 60 days. After that, Congress has to vote to fund further military action.
Most people can name the President. Fewer could name, for instance, their local Congressperson. The President has a much larger presence on the world stage than any other citizen. He or she is considered to be the leader of whichever political party he follows and unofficially represents its agendas as a whole. The President also addresses the nation and the world during a yearly State of the Union speech, in which he outlines goals for the upcoming year.
The President’s powers are, as outlined in the Constitution, balanced with those of the legislative and judicial branches to prevent power from being consolidated to any single person.
Brooke works as teacher at an elementary school. She is also a main volunteer for a youth group. She currently lives with her husband and two kids.