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The Presidency

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Standard and Unilateral Powers Models of Presidential Power

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The President doesn’t control gas prices but is blames for them

Americans tend to be unhappy with the president when gas prices rise.

But why?

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Expectations outpace reality

The president is often seen as the stand-in for the government. In reality:

The president is not the government

The president is not the presidency

Voters and the media often exaggerate what presidents can do alone

Example of President is not presidency

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Example of President is not Presidency, 2

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“In Gun Bill Defeat, a President’s Distaste for Twisting Arms” NYT, 4/22/13

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“Standard Model” of Presidential Power

Premise: the president is not as powerful as people think, particularly in domestic politics. Some reasons:

Cannot fully control own executive branch (president v. presidency)

Cannot control actions of other branches

Party polarization has made things worse (though also created some new opportunities)

Presidents oversell their own power, creating inflated expectations

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Dissenting View: Unilateral Powers Model

Premise: the president’s unilateral powers have increased over time and will continue to do so, endangering democracy

Congressional inaction, fragmentation, polarization  presidents doing more unilaterally, sometimes breaking norms or laws

Increased use of executive orders, rule-implementation

Example: immigration policy

Congress unwilling to push back

Increased unilateral action in foreign policy

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Big Questions for Module

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What are the sources of presidential powers?

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“formal” and “informal”

How much control does the president have over the executive branch?

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Where is the president weaker than people expect, and where he is strong?

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The President’s Informal Powers I

the Modern State and the Bureaucracy

Formal Versus Informal Powers

Formal powers: those powers enumerated or implied by the constitution.

Informal powers: those powers the president has gained through changes in the federal bureaucracy, communication technology, and campaigning.

The constitutional presidency is not powerless, but on paper, the President is clearly second to Congress.

The growth in presidential power comes mainly from informal rather than formal powers.

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Key changes increasing Informal Powers

Growing role for government  growing executive branch

Delegation doctrine and implementation

Agenda-setting

Executive orders

Bargaining tools

Changes in media, communication, and culture

Media technology

President as national symbol

Changing presidential campaign styles

Going public

The Institutional Presidency 1

The power of the presidency is tied to how much the federal government does.

19th century: some strong presidents, but weak presidency

Little or no executive branch

Andrew Jackson: Strong President, Weak Presidency

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The Institutional Presidency 2

The increase in government responsibility after the New Deal required a regulatory state—a modern state part of a modern presidency. Some key concepts:

1. Delegation doctrine: Congress creates program that executive agency must carry out

Social Security  checks

Environmental Protection Agency  testing water, air

The Institutional Presidency 3

2. The creation of a robust executive branch also gives the president considerable power in implementing the law. Some examples:

Theodore Roosevelt, Sherman Anti-Trust Act

Obama v. Trump, Affordable Care Act

Obama v. Trump, immigration policy

The Institutional Presidency 4

3. Growing role of national government also means increasingly president has agenda-setting powers

National budget

State of the Union address

Presidential election campaigns

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The Institutional Presidency 5

4. Executive orders: presidents have considerable power to reorganize the executive branch or change its rules and policies.

Often delegated by Congress, e.g. Trump’s 2019 “emergency acts” re: the Wall

Has the force of law

Can be overturned by law
(but may need veto override) or by the next President

Executive Order 9981: President Truman Desegregates the Armed Forces in 1948

Executive Order example: “Mexico City Policy”

Neustadt and Bargaining

5. Another important consequence of the institutional presidency: the president now has many resources for bargaining with members of Congress and interest groups.

Neustadt’s theory: presidents must bargain and convince other political actors that your interests are their interests

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Neustadt’s Theory

Presidents must use reputation, “prestige” and most importantly, bargaining:

Reputation: healthy fear of president needed, bargains are honored, detractors punished.

Prestige: how the public will assess Congressional interactions with president?

Bargaining: giving pork, appointments to members of Congress, providing positive media attention, opportunities for credit-claiming.

Under this view, a good president is a good politician

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Trump and Neustadt

Positives

Trump is popular with most Republicans

Trump punishes detractors, particularly in his own party

Negatives

Entered as popular vote loser

Reputation as erratic bargainer

Little incentive for Democrats to bargain

Trump sometimes bargains poorly, e.g. 2019 government shutdown over wall

Bargaining Has Gotten Harder

Since Neustadt wrote in the 1960s, bargaining has become more difficult.

Why?

Weaker party leaders/party control of members

Growing polarization

More interest groups to bargain with

More transparency

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The President’s Informal Powers II

Technological and cultural change

Informal Powers and the Media

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Increasing importance of communication

What developments have made presidential rhetoric a more powerful tool for achieving policy goals?

The advances in mass media (especially TV)

Growing expectations for agenda-setting

Growth in nationalism

Changing campaign norms

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Theory: “Going Public”

This dynamic has led more recent presidents to push for their policy goals by what political scientist Sam Kernell calls “going public,” or making direct appeals to voters.

In some ways, the opposite of bargaining

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President speaks

Public opinion shifts

Congress changes position

Going Public: An Example

In 1981, Reagan’s budget/tax plans ran into opposition from the Democratic House (Senate was Republican).

“Went public”

Worked: enough Democrats in the House caved

President Reagan “Going Public”

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Limits of Going Public

Congress hates it (they get nothing)

Diminishing returns

Looks bad if you fail

Your position must be “latently popular,” important to public

You must be popular

You may have to promise the moon

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Recent Example: Trump and the Wall

Trump gave an Oval Office address on funding for border wall, January 9th, 2019.

While the speech was popular, with viewers, it did not change many minds.

Going Public was easier with fewer entertainment choices

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Going Public was easier with fewer entertainment choices, 2

Today, many, many things to do rather than watch non-cable television.

Finally, absent true crises (e.g. 9/11), people likely to watch presidential address are high information, and more partisan

Or: those who are watching are least likely to change their opinion

Bottom line: going public is a limited tool

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Summing up Neustadt and Kernell

In Neustadt’s theory, presidents must be politically skilled to be powerful (good at negotiating)

Kernell’s theory adds that presidents who communicate well can also be more powerful.

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The Constitutional Presidency

The President and Article II of the Constitution

Creating the Presidency

Had to reject the Articles, which had no president

Institutional principles: “Energy” and “Unity” (Federalist #70)

Or: speed and accountability

Big questions:

How many presidents?

How long a term? How many terms?

How selected?

The danger of dual executives

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Formal Powers: Veto

Purpose of veto

Frequency over time

Norms versus rules in constitutional development

Jackson’s national bank veto first real “policy veto”

Jackson’s twelve vetoes attacked by his political opponents

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Formal Powers: Appointment

The president appoints:

Their own staff/Cabinet members

Ambassadors to foreign countries

Federal judges

Question: how much deference should Senate show to president in confirmation votes?

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Formal Powers: Treaties

Treaty power:

Mix of legislative and executive functions

2/3rds of Senate required to ratify proposed treaty (why so high a threshold?)

President Wilson’s Failed Attempt to Bring US into League of Nations

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Formal Powers: Pardon

Unchecked power—its purpose?

Ford and Nixon

Clinton

G.W. Bush and Libby

Obama

Trump

The Surrender at Appomattox

President Ford Signs Nixon’s Pardon

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Obama’s Pardon Power Frequency

Formal Powers: Commander-in-Chief

We’ll deal with this in a separate lecture at the end of the module.

(Foreign policy is the main area where the president is actually as strong as our expectations.)

Formal Check: Impeachment

Impeachment applies to 1) bribery, 2) treason, and 3) “high crimes and misdemeanors”

Third term not limited to crimes per se; could mean abuse of power, fleeing country during war

Understood not to include just dislike of policies

Process:

Impeachment (House, majority vote)

Conviction/removal (Senate, 2/3rds vote)

A political process, not a judicial one

Have political parties and polarization made impeachment impossible?

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