The Presidency – APGOV Lecture Notes – Week Twelve

The Presidency – Class Notes and Outline

AP Government and Politics

Make sure to read an in-depth essay on the Presidency.


1. Explain the differences between the positions of president and prime minister and discuss the approach of the Founders toward executive power.

2. Sketch the evolution of the presidency from 1789 to the present.

3. List and describe the various offices that make up the office of the president.

4. Review discussions of presidential character, and how these relate to the achievements in office of various presidents.

5. Enumerate and discuss the various facets-formal and informal-of presidential power.

Text Outline

I. Presidents and prime ministers

A. Characteristics of parliaments

1. Parliamentary system twice as common

2. Chief executive chosen by legislature

3. Cabinet ministers chosen from among members of parliament

4. Prime minister remains in power as long as his/her party or coalition maintains a majority in the legislature

B. Differences

1. Presidents are often outsiders; prime ministers are always insiders, chosen by party members in parliament

2. Sitting members of Congress cannot simultaneously serve in a president’s cabinet; members of
parliament are eligible to serve in the prime minister’s cabinet

3. Presidents have no guaranteed majority in the legislature; prime ministers always have a majority

4. Presidents and legislature often work at cross-purposes

a. Even when one party controls both branches

b. A consequence of separation of powers, which fosters conflict between the branches

c. Only Roosevelt and Johnson had constructive relations with Congress

C. Divided government common in U.S. but Americans dislike it for creating gridlock

1. But divided government passes as many important laws, conducts as many investigations, and ratifies as many treaties as a unified government

2. Unclear whether gridlock is always bad; it is a necessary consequence of representative democracy

II. The evolution of the presidency

A. Delegates feared both anarchy and monarchy

1. Idea of a plural executive

2. Idea of an executive checked by a council

B. Concerns of the Founders

1. Fear of military power of president who could overpower states

George Washington was the only president who took active control of the military. During the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, Washington requested state governors to provide a force of 12,900 militia troops-and ended up with a volunteer force larger than the one he had commanded during the Revolutionary War.

2. Fear of presidential corruption by Senate

3. Fear of presidential bribery to ensure reelection

4. Concerned to balance power of legislative and executive branches

C. The electoral college

1. Each state to choose own method of selecting electors

2. Electors to meet in own capital to vote for president and vice president

The actual election of the president and vice president does not occur until January 6, when the sitting vice president, in the presence of both houses of Congress, opens the ballots of the electors. Although usually a formality, some electors have deviated from the way they were supposed to vote.

3. If no majority, House would decide

D. The president’s term of office

1. Precedent of George Washington
and the historical tradition of two terms

2. Twenty-second Amendment in 1951 limits
to two terms

3. Problem of establishing the legitimacy
of the office

4. Provision for orderly transfer of

E. The first presidents

1. Office legitimated by men active
in independence and Founding politics

2. Minimal activism of early government
contributed to lessening fear of the presidency

3. Appointed people of stature in the
community (rule of fitness)

4. Relations with Congress were reserved;
few vetoes; no advice

F. The Jacksonians

1. Jackson believed in a strong and
independent president

2. Vigorous use of veto for policy
reasons; none overridden

G. The reemergence of Congress

1. With brief exceptions the next
hundred years was a period of congressional dominance

2. Intensely divided public
opinion-partisanship, slavery, sectionalism

3. Only Lincoln expanded presidential

a. Asserted “implied powers” and
commander in chief

b. Justified by emergency conditions
created by Civil War

The Supreme Court rejected Lincoln’s
emergency powers rationale for exercising power beyond the
president’s constitutional authority. In Ex Parte Milligan
the Court declared that “the Constitution of the
United States is a law for rulers and people, equally in war
and in peace.”

4. President mostly an opposing force to
Congress until New Deal

5. Popular conception of president as
center of government contradicts reality; Congress often policy

III. The powers of the president

A. Formal powers found in Article

1. Not a large number of explicit

2. Potential for power found in ambiguous
clauses of the Constitution-e.g., power as commander in chief,
duty to “take care that laws be faithfully executed”

B. Greatest source of power lies in politics
and public opinion

1. Increase in broad statutory
authority, especially since 1930s

2. Expectation of presidential leadership
from the public

The public’s perception that
presidential power is vast should not be exaggerated. In a 1990
survey, 31 percent believed that the Supreme Court was more
powerful than the president (21 percent endorsed the opposite

IV. The office of the president

A. The White House Office

1. Contains the president’s closest

2. Three types of structure, often used
in combination

a. Pyramid

b. Circular

c. Ad hoc

3. Staff typically worked on the
campaign; a few are experts

B . Executive Office of the

1. Composed of agencies that report
directly to the president

2. Appointments must receive Senate

3. Office of Management and Budget among
the most important

a. Assembles the budget

b. Develops reorganization

c. Reviews legislative proposals of

C. The cabinet

1. Not explicitly mentioned in

The term “cabinet” was coined by a
journalist during the administration of George

2. President can appoint fewer than 1
percent of employees in most departments

3. Secretaries become preoccupied and
defensive about their own departments

D. Independent agencies, commissions, and

1. President appoints members of
agencies that have a quasi-independent status

2. In general, independent agency heads
can be removed only “for cause” and serve fixed term; executive
agency heads serve at the president’s pleasure, though their
appointments must be confirmed by the Senate

3. Judges can be removed only by

V. Who gets appointed

A. President knows few appointees

B. Most appointees have had federal

1.”In-and-outers”-alternate federal
and private sector jobs

C. Need to consider groups, regions, and
organizations when making appointments

D. Rivalry between department heads and
White House staff

VI. Presidential Character

A. Eisenhower-orderly

B. Kennedy-improviser

C. Johnson-deal maker

D. Nixon–mistrustful

E. Ford-genial

F. Carter-outsider

G. Reagan-communicator

H. Bush-hands-on manager

I . Clinton-focus on details

VII. The power to persuade

A. Formal opportunities for

B. The three audiences

1. Fellow politicians and leaders
in Washington, D.C.-reputation very important

2. Party activists and officials outside

3. The various publics

C. Popularity and influence

Presidents usually enjoy a temporary
surge in popularity following a national crisis, even disasters
like the Bay of Pigs (President Kennedy) and the hostage rescue
mission in Iran (President Carter). This phenomenon is known as
the rally-round-the-flag syndrome. However, recent scholarship has
identified numerous exceptions to this rule.

1. Presidents try to transform
popularity into congressional support for their programs

2. Members of Congress believe it is
politically risky to challenge a popular president

3. Little effect of presidential

D. The decline in popularity

1. Popularity highest immediately
after an election

2. Declines by midterm

VIII. The power to say no

A. Veto

1. Veto message

2. Pocket veto (only before Congress
adjourns at the end of its second session)

3. Congress rarely overrides vetoes; no
line-item veto

4. 1996 reform permits enhanced
recissions, though its constitutionality is

B. Executive privilege

Wide variations exist in the use of
executive privilege. President Eisenhower asserted the claim
forty-four times, whereas Kennedy and Johnson did so only twice
each. Nixon cited privledge in refusing to hand over the Watergate
tapes and recently the Supreme Court ruled against Bill Clinton.
Clinton has claimed that he did not have to go before a Federal
Grand Jury while sitting as President.

1. Confidential communications
between president and advisers

2. Justification

a. Separation of powers

b. Need for candid advice

3. U.S. v. Nixon (1973) rejected
claim of absolute executive privilege

C. Impoundment of funds

1 . Defined: presidential refusal
to spend funds appropriated by Congress

2. Countered by Budget Reform Act of

a. Requires president to notify
Congress of funds he does not intend to spend

b. Congress must agree in 45 days to
delete item

c. Requires president to notify
Congress of delays in spending

d. Congress may pass a resolution
requiring the immediate release of funds

IX. The president’s program

A. Putting together a program

The preparation of a presidential program
was not institutionalized until the administration of Franklin
Roosevelt. When Eisenhower assumed office, he failed to submit a
program in the belief that initiating legislation was a
congressional responsibility. Congress finally requested the
president to forward his policies for action.

1 . President can try to have a
policy on everything (Carter)

2. President can concentrate on a small
number of initiatives (Reagan)

3. Constraints

a. Public and congressional
reaction may be adverse

b. Limited time and attention span of
the president

c. Unexpected crises

d. Programs can be changed only

B. Attempts to reorganize

When Congress rebuffed President Nixon’s
proposal to streamline executive departments, Nixon attempted to
institute the reorganization by establishing a few
“superdepartments” and having certain secretaries assume
supervision over several departments. Watergate

1. Reasons for reorganizing

a. Large number of

b. Easier to change policy through

2. Reorganization outside the White House
staff must be by law

X. Presidential succession

A. Only fourteen of forty-one
presidents have served two terms

B. The vice president

1. Eight vice presidents have
succeeded to office on president’s death

To avoid a succession calamity, the
Secret Service insists that one member of the cabinet should be
absent when the president delivers the State of the Union
message. Since all high-ranking members of the administration
attend, the possibility exists that the entire line of
presidential succession could be wiped out by an act of

2. Rarely are vice presidents elected

a. Unless they first took over
for a president who died

b. Only five instances otherwise:
Adams, Jefferson, Van Buren, Nixon, Bush

Both John Adams and Thomas
Jefferson were vice presidents prior to the adoption of the
Twelfth Amendment, which provided for the election of a
single ticket to the top executive offices (president and
vice president). Adams and Jefferson, therefore, had no
official party connection to the president.

3. “A rather empty job”

a. Candidates still pursue

b. Vice president presides over Senate
and votes in case of tie

c. Leadership powers in Senate are

C. Problems of succession

1. What if president falls

a. Examples: Garfield, Wilson,
Eisenhower, Reagan

2. If vice president steps up, who
becomes new vice president?

a. Succession Act (1886):
designated secretary of state as next in line

b. Amended in 1947 to designate
Speaker of the House

3. Twenty-fifth Amendment (1967) resolved
both issues

a. Allows vice president to
serve as acting president if president is disabled

(1) Decided by president, by
vice president and cabinet, or by two thirds vote of

President Reagan was the first
president to use the incapacity provision of the Twenty fifth
Amendment. While in the hospital to have an intestinal tumor
removed, Reagan signed a statement allowing the then vice
president, George Bush, to exercise power “in my stead
commencing with the administration of anesthesia to me in this
instance.” However, Reagan never formally mentioned compliance
with the Twenty-fifth Amendment.

b. Requires vice president who
ascends to office on death or resignation of president to
name a vice president

(1) Must be confirmed by
majority vote of both houses

(2) Examples: Agnew’s and Nixon’s

D. Impeachment

1. Judges, not presidents, most
frequent objects of impeachment

2. Indictment by the House, conviction by
the Senate

a. Examples: Andrew Johnson,
Richard Nixon (pre-empted by resignation), Clinton

XI. How powerful is the president?

A. Both president and Congress are
more constrained

B . Reasons for constraints

1. Complexity of issues

2. Scrutiny of the media

3. Greater number and power of interest

Important Terms

ad hoc structure A method in
which the president organizes his personal staff that employs task
forces, committees, and informal groups of friends dealing directly
with him.

Budget Reform Act of 1974 A
congressional effort to control presidential impoundments. It
requires, among other things, that the president spend all
appropriated funds unless he first tells Congress which funds he
wishes not to spend and Congress, within forty-five days, agrees to
delete the items. If he wishes simply to delay spending money, he
need only inform Congress, but Congress in turn can refuse the delay
by passing a resolution requiring immediate release of the

cabinet By custom, the heads
of the fourteen major executive departments who meet to discuss
matters with the president. These “secretaries” receive their
positions by presidential nomination and confirmation by the Senate.
They can be removed at the will of the president.

circular structure A method in
which the president organizes his personal staff that has cabinet
secretaries and assistants reporting directly to the

direct democracy A form of
democracy in which the people legislate for themselves.

divided government A
government in which one party controls the White House and a
different party controls one or both houses of Congress.

electoral college The body
that formally selects the president. Each state is allotted electoral
votes equal to the number of its representatives and senators in
Congress. It can decide how its electors are to be chosen and under
what method they cast their votes for president. The candidate for
the presidency who receives a majority of these votes wins. If no
candidate obtains a majority, the House of Representatives chooses
from the top three in electoral votes.

executive agencies Federal
agencies that are part of the executive branch but outside the
structure of cabinet departments. Their heads typically serve at the
pleasure of the president and can be removed at the president’s

Executive Office of the
Executive agencies that report directly to the
president and whose purpose is to perform staff services for the
president. Top positions are filled by presidential nomination with
Senate confirmation.

executive privilege A claim by
the president entitling him to withhold information from the courts
or Congress. In 1973, the Supreme Court ruled that such a claim is
valid when sensitive military or diplomatic matters are involved, but
it refused to recognize an “absolute unqualified” presidential
privilege of immunity.

impeachment A form of
indictment voted on by the House of Representatives. It can be
brought against the president, the vice president, and all “civil
officers” of the federal government. To be removed from his or her
position, the impeached officer must be convicted by a two-thirds
vote of the Senate.

impoundment The refusal of the
president to spend money appropriated by Congress. The Constitution
is silent on this power, but the Budget Reform Act of 1974 limits the
president’s ability to impound funds.

independent agencies Federal
agencies that are part of the executive branch but outside the
structure of cabinet departments. Their heads typically serve fixed
terms of office and can be removed only for cause.

inherent powers Powers not
specified in the Constitution which the president claims. These
powers are asserted by virtue of office.

lame duck A politician whose
power has been diminished because he or she is about to leave office
as a result of electoral defeat or statutory limitation.

legislative veto A method by
which Congress in a law allows either one or both houses to block a
proposed executive action. It is frequently used for presidential
reorganization plans of the executive branch. These vetoes were
declared unconstitutional in 1981.

Office of Management and
Created as the Bureau of the Budget in 1921, the OMB
was reorganized in 1970. It assembles and analyzes the national
budget submitted to Congress by the president. Additional duties
include studying the organization and operation of the executive
branch, devising plans for reorganizing departments and agencies,
developing ways of getting better information about government
programs, and reviewing proposals that cabinet departments want
included in the president’s legislative program.

perks A short form of the term
“perquisites,” meaning the fringe benefits of office.

pocket veto One of two ways
for a president to disapprove a bill sent to him by Congress. If the
president does not sign the bill within ten days of receiving it, and
Congress has adjourned within that time, the bill does not become

presidential coattails The
charismatic power of a president which enables congressional
candidates of the same party to ride into office on the strength of
his popularity. This influence has declined in recent

prime minister The head of
government in a parliamentary system. Chosen by the legislature, this
official selects the other ministers of government from among the
members of parliament and remains in power as long as his or her
party has a majority of seats in the legislature, as long as the
assembled coalition holds together, or until the next scheduled

pyramid structure A method in
which the president organizes his personal staff that has most
assistants reporting through a hierarchy to a chief of

recissions Presidential
recommendations to cut parts of appropriations bills; a 1996 law
allows the president’s recissions to go into effect unless they are
overridden by a two-thirds vote in Congress.

representative democracy A
form of government in which the people elect representatives to act
on their behalf.

Twenty-fifth Amendment A
constitutional amendment ratified in 1967 which deals with
presidential disability. It provides that the vice president is to
serve as acting president whenever the president declares he is
unable to discharge the duties of office or whenever the vice
president and a majority of the cabinet declare the president
incapacitated. If the president disagrees, a two-thirds vote of
Congress is needed to confirm that the president is unable to execute
his duties. The amendment also deals with a vacancy in the vice
presidency by allowing the president to nominate a new vice president
subject to confirmation by a majority vote of both houses.

Twenty-second Amendment A
constitutional amendment ratified in 1951 which limits presidents to
two terms of office.

unified government A
government in which the same party controls the presidency and both
houses of Congress.

veto message A statement the
president sends to Congress accompanying a refusal to sign a bill
passed by both houses. It indicates the president’s reasons for the

veto. A two-thirds vote of both houses overrides the veto.

White House Office Personal assistants
to the president with offices in the White House
. These
aides oversee the political and policy interests of the president and
do not require Senate confirmation for appointment. They can be
removed at the discretion of the president.

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