Education and Communications

Presidential Power: Crash Course Government And Politics #11

This episode of Crash Course is brought to you by SquareSpace. Hi. I’m Craig and this is Crash Course: Government and Politics. And today, we’re gonna talk about the most powerful person in the U.S. No, not Chris Hemsworth, although he is powerful, in a physical sense. We’re talking about the President of the United States, who right now is Barack Obama But that’s the last we’ll mention of him specifically. Instead, we’ll examine the office of the Presidency and what makes whoever holds the office so powerful. We’re also gonna talk about what makes him (and so far the President has always been a him) less powerful than you might think. [Theme Music] So you might have noticed a bit of a trend in these episodes that we like to start with what the Constitution says about the branches of Government. That’s not just because it’s what appears on tests or what strict constructionist Justice Scalia would want us to do. We start with the Constitution because it gives us a
formal description of the branch, in this case the executive, upon which we can build. Right Clone: What do you mean upon which we
can build? That’s nonsense. The Constitution is a limited document. It lays the framework
and the rules and that’s all. All this extra stuff is an unconstitutional power grab.
Center Craig: Oh, Clone from the Right, I was wondering what happened to you clones.
That’s a good point you make… Left Clone: But really the world is a more
complicated than it was in 1787, and we need to have a more flexible government. The Constitution
provides a framework for understanding it, but it needs to change with the times. Besides,
if the President becomes more powerful than what’s suggested in the Constitution, whose
fault is that? Congress! That’s who! Center Craig: Okay clones, we get the picture.
There’s a debate about the role of the Constitution in setting up the government and we’re not
gonna solve it today. For now, we’re gonna start with the Constitution and what it says
about the President. Left Clone: You win this round, Clone from
the Right. Center Craig: All right, let’s try to keep
those convos in the clone zone going forward? Thank you. Anyway, as with Congress, the Constitution
lays out certain qualifications for the presidency. If you want to be President of the US, and I know
you do, you must be 35 years old, which in the 1780s was actually pretty old. You were expected to
have moved out of your parents’ house by that point… And you must be a citizen of the US who
was born in the United States, or one of its territories. The President is not elected directly by the
American people. Yeah, your mind is blown. In the Constitution, as originally written, only
members of the House of Representatives were directly elected by qualified citizens. The President is actually chosen by the Electoral
College, which is complicated and frustrating for many Americans, and we’re not gonna
go into it now, except to say that the reason it exists is because the Framers didn’t
trust the popular vote all that much, so they built in the Electoral College as a safeguard
against the people electing scary demigods or the person.. they wanted… elected. Some people say this is not particularly democratic,
mostly because it’s not particularly democratic. So democratically elected or not, the President
is pretty powerful, but he has different categories of powers. What are they? First, he has military powers to send soldiers
and planes and ships to do military things. He also has judicial powers, in that he appoints
federal judges and Supreme Court judges, subject to Senate approval, of course. He’s the nation’s chief diplomat, which
is the source of his foreign policy power. The president can also propose laws, although
he has to get a Congressmen or Senator to actually introduce them into Congress. This
is a legislative power. And since he’s the chief executive, he also has
executive power, which means he’s supposed to to ensure that the laws are carried out. This
is his most far reaching power, probably because it’s the least well defined. Executive power is a pretty
big deal, so we’re gonna give that its own episode. Another way to describe the president’s
powers is as either formal or informal. Formal powers are the ones we can find in the Constitution
itself, mainly in Article 2. The informal powers come either from Congress or the President
himself, but for now, let’s look at the formal powers, which like those given to Congress, are also knwon
as expressed powers. Let go to the Thought Bubble. Unfortunately, presidents don’t derive their
powers from the sun, like Superman. Or from exposure to radiation like the Fantastic Four
or the Hulk. The powers come from the constitution, which again, unfortunately doesn’t have
any super natural or mystical power, although some people like to think it does. The first power given to the President in
the Constitution is that he is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, which at the time was
just the Army and Navy, since there were no airplanes. There’s a reason that this should be the first
power. If there’s one thing that almost everyone can agree on, it’s that the first job of government
is to keep the citizens safe, especially from foreign invasion. The US has had a lot of
generals become president: Washington, Jackson, William Henry Harrison, Taylor, Grant, Eisenhower,
and many others have served in the military, but only one president has led the US troops
in the field while he was President, and that was George Washington. The Whiskey Rebellion.
That’s something worth fighting over. The President has diplomatic powers, although
he doesn’t actually do most of the diplomacy. The President has the power to make treaties,
which are mostly written by the State Department officials, but he takes credit. He appoints
ambassadors and those State Department officials I just mentioned. His most visible foreign
policy power is to receive ambassadors, which not only makes for great photo opportunities
– selfie!- but also is a significant power because receiving an ambassador effectively
means recognition of that ambassador’s country’s existence. So the President can actually legitimize
a nation-state. Maybe he does have superpowers. The Constitution requires that the President
from time to time inform Congress of the state of the Union. This takes the form of an annual
State of the Union address. Historically, presidents did this in writing, although George
Washington made a formal address. We have Woodrow Wilson to thank for reviving the practice
of making the State of the Union an actual speech, which now appears on television early
each year. This may not seem like much of a power, but the State of the Union is a chance
for the President to set a policy agenda for the next year, and it can put some pressure on
Congress to make policy. Thanks, Thought Bubble. So the President has a couple of other powers
we’ve already talked about. The President has a form of legislative power to veto laws
passed by Congress. He also has the power to convene Congress into special sessions.
The President also has judicial powers. He can appoint judges, but only with the consent
of the Senate. He does have the power to grant pardons and reprieves, which doesn’t sound
like a big deal, unless you’re in jail or threatened by criminal prosecution, in which
case it’s a very big deal. So there you have it. Those are the formal
constitutional powers of the President of the United States. You may have noticed that
there aren’t all that many of them. Which is kind of the point. The framers of the Constitution
wanted a limited government. One that couldn’t oppress the people. They were especially afraid
of a strong executive, like a king, in charge of a standing army, so they deliberately tried
to curtail his powers by not giving him very many. But as we’ll see in the next few episodes,
over the course of the last 240 years or so, the powers of the President have expanded
far beyond what framers probably envisioned. Thanks for watching. I’ll see you next week. Mmm. I can feel my powers expanding.
Is this radioactive coffee? Crash Course Government and Politics is produced
in association with PBS Digital Studios. Support for Crash Course US Government comes from
Voqal. Voqal supports nonprofits that use technology and media to advance social equity. Learn
more about their mission and initiatives at Crash Course was with the help of all these
superheroes. Thanks for watching.
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