A short list of presidential powers

Ph.D. | 7/25/2012, 5 p.m.

The president is the chief executive officer of the U.S. government. As such, the president heads the executive branch of national government, which currently consists of the president, the vice president (who also serves as president of the U.S. Senate), 15 cabinet secretaries and their agencies, including the State Department, Defense Department, Treasury Department, Interior Department, Commerce Department, Health and Human Services Department, Transportation Department, Education Department, and more than 10 federal agencies, including the CIA, Homeland Security, NASA, the Office of Personnel Management (which alone handles more than 2.8 million federal jobs), etc.

It also includes the boards of directors for U.S. government-owned corporations such as Amtrak, the U.S. Postal Service, etc. The president appoints all 15 of the cabinet secretaries (cabinet heads), and the U.S. Senate is authorized by the Constitution to hold hearings to ratify or disapprove of those presidential appointments.

Though there is no specific constitutional language that identifies the appointing of presidential cabinet members, Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution states that the president "...may require the opinion, in writing, of the principal officer in each of the executive departments, upon any subject relating to the duties of their respective offices."

The interpretation of that constitutional excerpt has been used since George Washington's first term to allow the president to appoint a cabinet of executive officers according to the number of cabinet posts designated by Congress. As the CEO of U.S. government, the president is currently in specific charge of a federal bureaucracy that includes more than 8,000 individual staff positions that the president must directly hire or approve (most of them listed in the Plum Book), more than 787 federal judges (including the nine on the Supreme Court) which the president has authority to appoint whenever vacancies occur, all U.S. ambassadors, ministers, and consuls to foreign countries, and other members of the diplomatic corps.

Additionally, the president has a current staff of more than 1,900 aides, assistants, advisors and consultants to supervise.

Below is a list of presidential powers for which there is no significant dispute. Following that is a shorter list of designated powers and authority that has been variously interpreted and sometimes misunderstood through the years. Lastly, there is a list of powers the president does not have, and a look at the checks-and-balances process between Congress, the judiciary and the president.

The President:
1. Is the commander-in-chief of all U.S. armed forces, and commissions all officers of the U.S. government.
2. Grants clemency, which are pardons, commutations, amnesties and reprieves for convictions of any federal crime (any offenses against the U.S. except impeachment).
3. Convenes and adjourns special sessions of Congress when thought necessary.
4. Meets with and receives foreign ambassadors and dignitaries, and represents the U.S. internationally.
5. Appoints federal judges, ambassadors, envoys and governmental representatives, with the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate.
6. Approves or vetoes (regular or pocket) all legislation passed by Congress.
7. Can issue executive orders to direct federal officials and agencies to enact, and these become documents which have the force of law.
8. Can impound the federal budget (that is, freeze all federal government spending for a temporary period).
9. Can make appointments of federal officials and ambassadors while Congress is not in session.
10. Can negotiate binding treaties with foreign governments that then must be considered for ratification (confirmation) by two-thirds of the U.S. Senate.
11. Can recognize new nations and new governments, and negotiate executive agreements with foreign powers that are not subject to ratification by the U.S. Senate.
12. Can issue whatever orders are deemed necessary, including the authorization of military force, to protect Americans abroad, American property, and foreign nationals who are in the U.S.
13. Can propose, but cannot pass, legislation to Congress.
14. Can perform as the U.S. government's sole spokesperson for foreign affairs and can establish and conduct foreign affairs with or without congressional consent.
15. Can perform as the sole negotiator of treaties with foreign entities, without congressional interference.