Presidential Executive

Powers of the President: Legislation

Presidents can propose measures to congress, subject to amendments or rejection.

  • Most usually announced in January session each year, however the President can propose legislation at any time; e.g. G W Bush after the September 11th attacks.
  • He shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.
  • In the annual State of the Union address, the President can propose legistlation he beleives is necessary. Before a joint session of Congress, the president outlines the status of the country and his legislative proposals for the upcoming year. If Congress should adjourn without acting on those proposals, the president has the power to call it into special session.
  • The late house Republican leader John Rhodes wrote that “Congress has served as little more than a glorified echo chamber for the Executive Branch of government—usually content to approve or disaprove, rarely willing to initiate.” 
  • However, it could also be suggested that "the president proposes, congress disposes". 
  • Furthermore, no law can be made without the assent of congress.

The president, as principal executive officer of the United States government, is primarily in a position to influence public opinion and thereby to influence the course of legislation in Congress. 

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Powers of the President: Signing legislation

The President signs legistlation into law.

  • Once a president signs a bill into law, it goes immediately into effect unless there is another effective date noted. Only the S.C. may remove the law, by declaring it unconstitutional.
  • The president may also veto a specific bill, which congress may override with a two-thirds majority of mambers of both the senate and the house.
  • The veto gives the Pres. the chance to remove aspects of Pork - Barrel legislation from bills he would otherwise approve, e.g. Clinton vetoed 36 bills - only 2 were overridden by Congress.
  •  Congress's power to override the veto was used re. Nixons War Power's resolution. Ford was overriden 12 times. 
  • The Constitution limits the President's period for decision on whether to sign or veto any legislation to ten days (not including Sundays) while the Congress is in session. A pocket veto happens if Congress adjourns during the 10-day period, then the bill does not become law. If the president neither signs nor vetoes a bill when Congress is in session, the bill becomes law without his signature after 10 days.

A president may also issue an executive order, which has the fell effect of law and is directed to federal agencies charged with carrying out the order - e.g. FDR for the internment of Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor, Eisenhower's order to integrate schools. 

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Powers of the President: Commander-in-Chief

The president has constitutionally enumerated powers as commander-in-chief.

  • The president's power as c-in-c has been used extensively - Johnson deployed 0.5m troop in Vietnam by 1968 without congressional declaration of war, Bush jr. sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Executive agreements do not require the necessary 2/3rds majority needed for treaties - there was 13 per year 1850-1939, 250 1974 - 2004.
  • The president may also call into federal service the state units of the National Guard. In times of war or national emergency, extra powers may be granted, while the president only requires congressional confirmation within 48 hours of attack, to send troops to other countries for hostile reasons. For any time beyond 60 days, further congressional approval will be required (war powers resolution).
  • However, Congress alone can declare war, regardless of the president's ability to engage troops in minor conflicts. 
  • Foreign treaties (two-thirds), in addition to all senior diplomats and senior forces personnel (majority), require the ratification of the senate.

While the president often reaches beyond the powers constitutionally guaranteed to him as commander-in-chief, efforts by congress to limit this power have often led to further legitimization of his efforts. 

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Powers of the President: Executive Clemency

The two most commonly used clemency powers are those of pardon and commutation.

  • A pardon is an official forgiveness for an acknowledged crime. Once a pardon is issued, all punishment for the crime is waived. 
  • This power acts as a check on the legislative and judicial branches by altering punishment for crimes. Presidents can issue blanket amnesty which forgives entire groups of people for a crime - e.g. Jimmy Carter offered amnesty to Vietnam War draftees who fled to Canada.
  • The President can also commute a sentence which, in effect, changes the punishment to time served - Bush jr. commuted the sentence of White House staffer Lewis Libby.
  • This power is used largely only in uncontroversial cases, but occasionally does cause concern e.g. Ford's pardon of Nixon 1974, Bush's pardon of Casper Weinberger 1992 and a variety of pardons passed by Clinton during his last few days in office.
  • However, this power to does not extend to those who have been impeached. 


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Powers of the President: Appointments

 Before taking office, the president-elect must appoint more than 6,000 new federal positions. As head of the executive branch, the President must appoint the top officials for all of the federal agencies. Many, but not all, of these positions are appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate.

  • The President also has the power to nominate federal judges, including members of the Supreme Court. However, these nominations do require Senate confirmation, and this can provide a major stumbling block for Presidents who wish to shape their federal judiciary in a particular ideological stance.
  • In the past, Presidents had the power to appoint all members of the United States civil service. This use of the spoils system allowed Presidents to reward political supporters with jobs - now a merit-based civil service in which positions are filled on a nonpartisan basis. 
  • The President must also appoint his staff - these individuals are political appointments and are not subject to review by the Senate. All members of the staff serve "at the pleasure of the President.".
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Powers of the President: The budget

The framework is used by Congress and the President of the United States to formulate the budget and was established by the Budget and Accounting act 1921, and the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Act of 1974.

  • The President must submit a budget to Congress each year. The President's budget contains detailed information on spending and revenue proposals, along with policy proposals and initiatives with significant budgetary implications.
  • The Congressional Budget Act of 1974 created the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and directed more control of the budget to it and away from the President's Office of Management and Budget.
  • Once a conference bill has passed both chambers of Congress, it is sent to the President, who may sign the bill or veto. If he signs, the bill becomes law. 
  • However,the president’s annual budget plan is naught but a suggestion and, moreover one that is likely to be set aside by Congress. Furthermore, the budget is - constitutionally - the role of congress, and as such the Presidents recommendations will remain subject to their approval. 
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Old Sir


A useful and clearly presented set of revision cards, these might form a good start-point for revising the presidency. However, students will also want to look closely at the foreign policy work of presidents, the role of the Executive Office of the President (EXOP), contrasting its reach and influence with those of the Cabinet, and the roles of the various agencies which report directly to the White House.

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