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Roles and powers of the president: lesson overview

A high-level overview of the presidency, including the president's formal and informal powers. 
Why do we have a president? And how do presidents get things done?
The Framers of the Constitution wanted to ensure that the executive branch was powerful enough to act, and so in Article II of the US Constitution, they established that executive power in the United States is vested in a president, who has certain powers. The powers of the president outlined in Article II are known as formal powers, but over the years presidents have claimed other powers, known as informal powers.
Presidents campaign for office based on their policy agendas: the things they promise voters that they will attempt to accomplish while in office. They use their formal and informal powers to accomplish their policy agendas.

Pojęcia kluczowe

cabinetA group of presidential advisers, including the heads of the executive departments, the attorney general, and other officials chosen by the president.
executive agreementAn international agreement between the president and another country, which does not require the consent of the Senate.
executive orderA presidential order to the executive branch that carries the force of law. The Supreme Court can rule executive orders unconstitutional.
pocket vetoAn indirect veto, which the president can use by neither signing or vetoing a bill passed by Congress fewer than 10 days before it adjourns.
signing statementA presidential statement upon signing a bill into law, which explains how a president’s administration intends to interpret the law.
State of the Union addressThe president’s annual message to a joint session of Congress, which includes recommended legislation and evaluations of the nation’s top priorities and economic health.
vetoThe president’s constitutional right to reject a law passed by Congress. Congress may override the president’s veto with a two-thirds vote.

Formal powers of the president

ExecutiveTake care that the laws be faithfully executed
Nominate officials (with Senate confirmation)
Request written opinions from administrative officials
Fill administrative vacancies during congressional recesses
Foreign policyAct as Commander in Chief of the armed forces
Make treaties (with Senate ratification)
Nominate ambassadors (with Senate confirmation)
Receive ambassadors
Confer diplomatic recognition on other governments
JudicialGrant reprieves and pardons for federal offenses (except impeachment)
Nominate federal judges (with Senate confirmation)
LegislativeRecommend legislation to Congress
Present information on the State of the Union to Congress
Convene Congress on extraordinary occasions
Adjourn Congress if House and Senate cannot agree
Veto legislation (Congress may overrule with supermajority)

Informal powers of the president

Bargaining and persuasionSetting priorities for Congress and attempting to get majorities to put through the president’s legislative agenda
Issuing executive ordersRegulations to run the government and direct the bureaucracy
Issuing signing statementsGiving the president's intended interpretation of bills passed by Congress
Negotiating executive agreementsAgreements with heads of foreign governments that are not ratified by the Senate
Image of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush in the Oval Office, looking at papers.
Issuing signing statements indicating the president's intentions for executing a law are an informal presidential power that has become more prevalent in the modern era. Here, President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H. W. Bush examine legislation in the Oval Office in 1984. Image source: Wikipedia

Key takeaway for this lesson

Beyond the Constitution — Article II of the Constitution describes the formal powers of the president, but the president also has informal powers, which have grown over time. Because the president and Congress have interrelated powers, tension frequently erupts between the two branches.

Pytania kontrolne

Why are some presidential powers “formal,” while others are “informal”? What’s the difference between these two types of power?
Should presidents be permitted to make signing statements, giving their interpretation of the law, when it's Congress's job to make law? Why or why not?

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