The Presidency


President V. Prime Minister

Prime minister: chosen by and responsible to the parliament

France combines directly elected president with a prime minister

Prime minister selects other members of cabinet from Parliament

Presidents are generally perceived as more powerful internationally because PM must check with parliament.


Divided government.

Definition: one party controls house, one controls senate. As opposed to unified government.

American pundits claim average joe doesn't like divided government.

Does divided government produce fewer or worse policy?

Scholars conclude divided and unified do about the same.

Main reason? Unified government is a bit of a myth.

Thus unified government really only exists when both bodies have same ideological wing.

Is gridlock bad?

In a typical election, about 25% of voters will vote for different party for each body

Gridlock is a necessary consequence of representative democracy

Gridlock is less important than relative power of congress and the president

We have more divided government as of late because

We have fewer people identifying with parties

Thus we have split-ticked votes

Limits of Presidential Power

Fears of Randolph

President may abuse power of pardon

Veto power means president is as powerful as 2/3 of congress

Fears of the founders

President might use state militias to overpower state governments

If president had to share treaty-making power with senate, he would become its tool

Biggest fear: president would use illegal means to perpetually gain reelection (would happen often if election was thrown to house of representatives)

Electoral college limits the president by

Real sources of expansion of power

Presidents role in foreign affairs

Ability to shape public opinion

Position as head of executive branch

Claim of "inherent powers"

Limits on the president

The electoral college: each state could select electors in whatever manner it wished. Figured that most states would select a personal favorite; no one would get majority; thus house of reps would decide. Framers didn't see the role of political parties.

The Term of Office: Washington said he would only run for two; none until roosevelt tried for more. 22nd amendment said presidents could only have two terms.

CW: Republicans didn’t like the perpetual winning of Democrats, so limit was a republican-led effort. Historical problem: 22nd didn’t get off the ground until the following congress, which was democrat. Thus it actually was the democrats that passed it.

Presidential precedent: Working with congress to get plans passed.

The Reemergence of congress: Congress is leading institution in antebellum years (hence no-name presidents). Very partisan. Lincoln really expanded Article II's implied/inherent powers.


Powers of the President

President can:

Presidents have used "faithfully executed" to do a great deal: Cleveland breaking labor strikes, Eisenhower and federal troops/ forced integration in little rock

Greatest source of power: public opinion


Ways to structure the White House

Power is wielded by those who are close

West wing assistants: hired and fired by president at will (no confirmation) -- essentially workers. Currently about 500

Types of structures:

Pyramid structure (Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, Bush) : most assistance report through staff hierarchy

Orderly flow of info


Does so at risk of misinforming or illinforming president

Circular structure (Carter) : all report directly to president

Great deal of info at the price of confusion

Ad hoc structure (Clinton) : task forces, committees, and informal groups deal directly with president

Greatest flexibility at the risk of isolating president from people who actually do the implementation

Presidents frequently mix methods

Executive offices of the president:

Report directly to the president but are not located in the White House itself

Appointments must be confirmed by senate

OMB is most important

The Cabinet

Heads of federal departments.

Approved by senate; president has limited power over them.

He can't really control who they employ

Members are heads of vast organizations that they seek to control

Departments: State, Treasury, Defense, Justice, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Energy, Education, Veterans affairs


Who gets appointed

A president is fortunate if most cabinet members agree with him on policy

People usually have prior federal experience

Many are "in-and-outers" -- alternate between federal service and private

Presidents as of late have been placing people known for their expertise -- look at number of Ph. D.'s

Presidential Influences

Audience: persons that need to be persuaded or supported

The three audiences

Washington DC audience of fellow politicians and leaders

Party office holders and activists outside Washington

The Public -- everybody else

Legislative influence

The object is to convert personal popularity into legislative support for proposals

President's popularity doesn't really help congressmen that much

Politicians tend to rise and fall together

Factors in popularity



Veto power and privilege

Veto message: president sends message to congress within 10 days of the bill passing saying he isn't going to sign it. He must give reasons for the veto. It goes back to the chamber where it originated.

Can be overridden by a 2/3 majority of a quorum.

Only really 34 senators.

Main reason: one more thing to slow the legislative notion – every law is inherently an infringement on liberty

Pocket veto: president doesn't sign it within 10 days and congress has ajourned in that time; bill doesn't become law.

If bill is not signed within 10 days, it becomes law automatically

Veto power is substantial because congress rarely has the votes to override it.

President might veto on personal, political, constitutional grounds

Presidential Privilege

Based upon: separation of powers; need for candid information

Supreme court held (with Nixon issue) that there is no "absolute unqualified presidential privilege of immunity from judicial process under all circumstances."

Impoundment of Funds

President refuses to spend money allocated by congress

Budget reform act of 1974 – president must spend money, or if he doesn’t want to, must tell congress

President must faithfully execute the laws –

"congress wasn’t intelligent enough to make that argument"

President relies on _____ when making a program

Interest groups – develop proposal that gets local groups invigorated so that movement looks like grass roots.

Federal bureaus and agencies – propose plans that would help promote their own government agency

Outside experts – knowledge of experts

Constraints on the president

Fundamental change does not occur in large republics

The federal individuals are more moderate, because they have to compromise a great number of faction

Thus local individuals are able to be more ideological, and get more accomplished.


Reorganization as a tool for change

Can help for minor agenda item

Often more symbolic


The Vice President

Position is only important when the president dies; resigns

VP’s only action is to vote in case of a tie; only gives bill an additional chance to pass

VP has become more important over time

The vice president can, on his or her own whim, become acting president, as long as president doesn’t disagree. If the president does disagree, then cabinet takes a vote. If president takes issue with the cabinet’s vote, then it goes to congress.


Eric Jonas's 1998-1999 AP American Government Notes
This material copyright Eric Jonas, 1999.
These notes have been taken from American Government, 7th edition, by Wilson and DiIulio, and from in-class lecture by Mr. Greg Sandmeyer at Timberline High School.