By Jennifer Nicoll Victor, Ph.D., George Mason University
The president of the United States is very powerful and is expected to play many roles. Interestingly, most of these powers were not mentioned in the Constitution and have evolved over time. Read about the various roles and responsibilities a US president handles.
Formal Powers of the Presidency
The formal presidential powers are outlined in Article I, section 7 and in Article II of the Constitution.
The Constitution gives the president the power to veto legislation, be commander-in-chief of the US armed forces, make appointments to executive service and the judiciary, and issue pardons.
Learn more about the roles of the government.
Powers in Modern Presidency
From time to time, the Congress has delegated its powers expressly to the president regarding particular issues or problems. This happens most frequently with respect to foreign policy and military crises. When people are fearful, they are more likely to seek an authority figure who can ensure their safety.
The modern presidency has many more powers, but for the most part those additional powers have been implied; the rest have been developed through norms and natural evolution over time.
In the period after the attacks in the US on September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush took on that role for many people. His popularity soared, and Congress was willing to grant the president enhanced powers in an effort to use the resources of the executive branch to help ensure security.
When a president’s popularity surges because of threats to security, it is called ‘rally ‘round the flag’ effect.
This is a transcript from the video series Understanding the US Government. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
President as the Head of State
In the United States, the president serves as both the head of state and the head of government.
Technically, the Constitution grants the power to create treaties with other nations to the United States Senate; however, in practice this hasn’t always worked so well. Functionally, it’s the president who engages in diplomacy and negotiation with other countries much more readily than the US Senate.
In fact, the executive branch has an entire department—the US Department of State—devoted to such things. The Senate does not.
The US uses what are known as executive agreements to make pacts with other countries. An executive agreement does not require Senate approval, but it cannot supersede any existing US law, and it only remains in force as long as the parties agree to it. Its primary advantage is that it can be crafted and implemented entirely from the executive branch of government, bypassing Congress altogether.
Learn more about the national and state governments.
President as the Head of Government
The president’s role as head of government includes a variety of roles such as the chief executive of government and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
As the chief executive of the government, the president is in charge of the many offices inside the White House and the federal bureaucracy. Notably, none of those things are mentioned in the Constitution; rather, they have just developed over time, and it has been assumed that the president would be in charge of them.
The power of being the commander-in-chief of the armed forces is granted to the president in Article II of the Constitution. When serving as commander-in-chief, the president leads the armed forces as a civilian, not as a military officer.
President as the Chief Appointment Maker
The president is also the chief appointment maker in the federal government.
This means that the president makes nominations to the Supreme Court, the federal courts, the executive agencies, cabinet level departments including secretaries and undersecretaries, ambassadors to other countries, and representatives to international organizations like United Nations. Many of these appointments are subject to Senate approval.
President’s Role in the Legislative Process
The president has the power to veto a legislation or sign it into law. Technically, the president also has the power to call Congress into a special session, which has been done on rare occasions. The Constitution also gives the president the power to force an adjournment of Congress if the House and Senate disagree about its adjournment.
Another official role in which the president acts as an executive and interacts with the legislative branch is when they deliver the State of the Union address.
Learn more about congressional elections.
State of the Union Address
In a State of the Union address, the president will often aim to set the legislative agenda or articulate specific policy goals.
But, it is important to note that the president has no power to introduce a legislation in the Congress. Presidents typically have a good relationship with party leaders in the Congress, so it’s relatively easy for presidents to introduce legislation through a proxy.
Today, State of the Union addresses are mostly about symbolic politics. They offer an opportunity for a president to garner a significant amount of attention to whatever issues they would like to highlight.
Common Questions about the Powers of the United States President
The US Constitution gives the president the power to veto legislation, be commander-in-chief of the US armed forces, make appointments to executive service and the judiciary, and issue pardons.
The head of state refers to the leader who represents the country in official and ceremonial matters. The head of government, on the other hand, is the leader who runs the executive function of the government.
The president makes nominations to the Supreme Court, the federal courts, the executive agencies, cabinet level departments including secretaries and undersecretaries, ambassadors to other countries, and representatives to international organizations like United Nations.