There are three categories of presidential power:
- Constitutional powers: powers explicitly granted by the Constitution
- Delegated powers: powers granted by Congress to help the president fulfill his duties
- Inherent powers: powers inherent in the president’s power as chief of the executive branch
Constitutional and delegated powers make up the expressed powers because these powers are clearly outlined in the Constitution. Presidents have interpreted inherent powers differently, sometimes in ways that grant the president great power.
The most common inherent powers are emergency powers, exercised only in times of great need. Some emergency powers are limited in scope. The president can declare a place devastated by a storm a federal disaster area, making it eligible for federal aid. Other emergency powers are much vaster in scope. During the Civil War, for example, President Abraham Lincoln spent money without congressional approval, and he also suspended a number of civil liberties, including the writ of habeas corpus.
Another type of inherent power is the executive order, which is a rule or regulation issued by the president that has the force of law. The president can issue executive orders for three reasons:
- To enforce statutes
- To enforce the Constitution or treaties
- To establish or modify how executive agencies operate
All executive orders must be published in the Federal Register, the daily publication of federal rules and regulations.
Executive privilege is the right of officials of the executive branch to refuse to disclose some information to other branches of government or to the public. It includes refusing to appear before congressional committees. Executive privilege is an inherent power that is not clearly defined, and the courts have had to set limitations on the use of the privilege. In 1974, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that executive privilege could not be invoked to prevent evidence from being used in criminal proceedings against the president.
Abuse of Power and Impeachment
If the president abuses power, the House of Representatives can impeach him, or formally charge him of committing crimes severe enough to call for removal from office. The Senate then tries the impeached president to determine whether he is innocent or guilty of the charges. If convicted, the president is removed from office. Two presidents have been impeached— Andrew Johnson in 1867 and Bill Clinton in 1998—but no president has been convicted by the Senate and removed from office. Richard Nixon would probably have been convicted for his involvement in the Watergate scandal, which is why he resigned in 1974 before the House began impeachment proceedings.
To be successful, a president must be a strong leader, someone who successfully engages in statecraft, the combination of power and wisdom in service of the public good. Scholars have long studied the art of statecraft and have debated what it takes for a president to be successful. Stagecraft always includes the following traits:
- Political skill: the ability to persuade, cajole, or coerce people
- Prudence: the ability to apply general principles to specific situations in a successful manner
- Opportunity: the ability to behave in decisive and meaningful ways
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