A2 Government & Politics Unit:4a, Topic:3 (Executive Branch)

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General Comments

  • First President = George Washington 
  • Policy is formed and execute here 
  • USA = Presidential executive
  • Article 2 
  • Popular election in US unlike UK, medium of Electoral College (need 270 of 538 on offer)
  • Fixed term of 4 years - unlike UK, no fixed term, max. of 5 years per term 
  • Only possibel removal of Pres. by a successful impeachment and trial by House and Senate 
  • Restriction of Pres to two terms of office in the XXII amend. 1951 
  • Presidential leadership only possible when extraordinary temperament and experience = pres 
  • E.g. Depression or war F.D. Roosevelt, or G.W.Bush 9/11
  • Seen as the most powerful person in the world - not true! only an illusion, restricted esp. in domestic policy 
  • Causes executive paradox - seen as a lot of power on the world stage, not much at all 
  • Asquith - paraphrased - "the office of the president is whatever the holder is able, or chooses, to make of it" 
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Types of presidential leadership

  • Neustadt - 'power to persuade' is the only power of pres. in the severity of separation of powers and checks and balances 
  • Inc. bargaining and compromise 
  • Also argued pres. was an office of inherent weakness not strength. 
  • Imperial presidency - acting above one's constitutional powers e.g. Nixon and L.B. Johnson, theory created by Schlesinger in 1973  - shown clearly in abuses of power in Watergate 
  • Imperilled presidency - Ford and Carter, as Congress became the 'resurgent Congress' power of president down. LBJ claimed not to even possess his constitutional powers as pres. 
  • Bifurcated presidency - weak in domestic policy - stronger in foreign 
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President's constitutional powers

  • Formal enumerated powers: 
    • Chief exec. - exec. power only to the president - e.g. federal budget, policy agenda, powers of patronage and pardon 
    • Commander-in-chief -  Leader of US armed forces - e..g Bush Jnr took adv. of this 
    • Chief diplomat - 'executive agreements' 
  • Implied roles: 
    • Chief legislator - no formal leg. power - yet does have const. power of the veto - lacks line-item veto (dismissed in 1998) 
    • World leader - international status - e.g. Bush Jnr - war on terror 
    • Party leader - not elected as a party leader as in UK sense - need to win support of party 
    • Head of state - only national symbol - performs roles of Queen in UK 
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  • Has the power to defeat the pres's leg. proposals 
  • Exercise full oversight over his actions and activities 
  • Refuse to fund any of his proposals (e.g. his budget was rejected in 1989 and 1995) 
  • OVerride his veto 
  • Refuse to confirm appointments 
  • Impeach him for "high crimes and misdemeanors"
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The Supreme Court

Supreme Court:

  • Oversight through judicial review. 
  • G.W.Bush - Clinton v City of NY 1998 - line-item veto unconstitutional 
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How a president achieves his/her goals

  • Power of persuasion - tough for Washington outsiders e.g. Carter 
  • Use of Congressional Liaison Office 
  • Inviting Congressmen whose votes he needs to the WH 
  • Campaigning for re-election of imp. members of Congress if popular 
  • Media appeal - e.g. Roosevelt's fireside chats - called using the 'bully pulpit' to inspire support
  • Success depends on: 
    • If the pres is in the honeymoon stage (first 100 days) or 'lame-duck' - final period of office 
    • If he has clear priorities, leadership vision
    • His public approval ratings - e.g. Bush jnr - 9/11 = 90% when 2009 - 26% 
    • If he has majs. in Congress 
    • If he has a strong mandate 
    • If he is a Washington Insider - e..g Obama 
    • Events and circumstances e.g. 9/11 2001
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New Imperial

  • Aftermath of 9/11 - allowed for strong presidency 
  • War on terror - came to dominate the political agenda 
  • G.W. Bush - "war president" - hypocritically nominated for Nobel Peace Prize 
  • Congress made more docile - refrained from entering controversial cases 
  • Helped by Repub. control of Congress from 2000-2006 
  • Passage of Patriot Act - controversial - "security state" through domestic surveillance and wire tapping 
  • Guantanamo Bay establishment - ignoring habaes corpus 
  • Setting up Homeland Security Department 2002 
  • Iraq 2003 
  • Bush also started signing statements practically line-item veto all but in name 
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President Obama


  • Strong Democrat majs. in Congress in 2008
  • Promised a bipartisan, pragmatic approach 
  • Had a huge personal mandate 
  • High approval ratings 
  • Sky-high expectations 
  • Charisma like Clinton and the power to persuade 


  • BUT - continuing war in Afghanistan 
  • Severe economic crisis + depression 
  • Criticism from right for being too left, from the left for being too right 
  • Lack of a filibuster-proof Senate of 60 Democrat votes - 2013 nee super maj. or 3/5 to override a filibuster - not easily achievable 
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  • Huge resources are necessary 
  • Huge growth of gov't activity in both domestic and foreign affairs 
  • More responsibility 
  • E.g. Truman - "the buck stops here" 
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Vice President

  • 'Balances the ticket' 
  • Be the power behind the throne 
  • 'Heartbeat away from the presidency' 
  • Most powerful VP in history = Dick Cheney 
  • Current VP = Joe Biden 
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Presidential cabinet

  • President may take advice from the cabinet 
  • Fenno - "institutionalised by usage alone" 
  • Singular exec. as opposed to UK's plural exec with cabinet 
  • 15 federal gov't departments 


  • Implement the pres's agenda - in specialist areas 
  • Appear before congressional committees to represent pres's wishes and plead for funding 
  • Attend meetings w/ the pres - full an dbilateral 
  • Assist the pres 

How is it selected: 

  • No shadow cabinet like in UK - cannot select from Congress due to sep of powers 
  • Policy specialists 
  • Confirmed by the Senate after hearings 
  • Can consturct a cabinet that 'looks like America' e.g. Obama - also "cabinet of rivals" 
  • Choose political allies  or demonstrate bipartisanship 
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Cabinet continued

How important is the cabinet:

  • Power is not fixed and unchanging 
  • Originally 3 fed departments no 15 - top ones are State, Treasury, Defence and Justice 
  • May be a Washington-insider like Kennedy who rarely called a cabinet meeting
  • No set pattern - and importance can be determined based on events - e.g. 9/11 or recession 
  • Feared they can be captured in 'iron-triangles' 
  • This is why pres's may turn to their political 'cronies' and advisers in EXOP 
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Executive Office of the President (EXOP)

  • Created after 1937 Brownlow Committee "the Pres needs help" 
  • Pres's personal bureaucracy 
  • New parts have been aded 

White House Office (WHO)

  • Tension between the WHO and the Cabinet 
  • Act as gatekeeper - e.g. Nixon's key aides nicknamed the Berlin Wall
  • Invisible presidency 
  • Decide policy strategy and priorities 
  • Manage the news
  • Build support 
  • Chief of Staff - Denis McDonough 

National Security Council (NSC) 

  • Advises the president on domestic, foreign and military matters 
  • 'Ear of the president' 
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EXOP (Continued)

Office of Management and Budget (OMB) 

  • Constructs the fed budget 
  • Provides different advice on the budget 

Why is the EXOP so imp? 

  • Pres relies on its advice and expertise as an alternative to cabinet secretaries who can have conflicting interests 
  • Loyal only to the pres - and follow his agenda 


  • Pres can become isolated, remote and overprotected - listening only to his 'political cronies' 
  • E.g. David Axelrod for Obama (close adviser) 
  • EXOP is unelected and unaccountable despite its huge power and influence 
  • 'Policy drift' occurs - disputes between cabinet and EXOP - 'Obama's Wars' book - deep policy disputes between foreign and security policy advisers on Iraq and Afghanistan 
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Federal bureaucracy

  • Organisations are created and funded by Congress 
  • Lacks legitimacy - no election and no electoral responsibility 
  • 15 fed gov't departments - headed by cabinet secretaries 
  • Permanent status gives bureaucrats detailed policy knowledge and expertise 
  • In theory, the fed bureaucracy works under direction of the pres, but in practice it is difficult 
  • President cannot fully 'command and control' and make the bureaucracy do what he wants 
  • Truman - "I thought I was the Pres, but when it comes to these bureaucracies I can't make 'em do a damn thing" 
  • Annual payroll for whole bureaucracy $14 billion 
  • Top 3% of fed bur are pres appointees 
  • Around 11% of 3 million fed bur work in Washington D.C. 
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