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The United States Presidency

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

So, there’s a presidential election campaign happening in the United States (US) at the moment. You may think the outcome of the election will not affect us here in Tasmania, but the truth is that it will. Whoever holds the Presidency has a considerable impact not only on Australia’s foreign affairs, but also on the […]

So, there’s a presidential election campaign happening in the United States (US) at the moment.

You may think the outcome of the election will not affect us here in Tasmania, but the truth is that it will. Whoever holds the Presidency has a considerable impact not only on Australia’s foreign affairs, but also on the domestic political culture, because ideological norms established in the US have a tendency to reverberate out to other Western countries.

Does this make you want to know more about the Presidency? If so, read on. I am going to enlighten you.

Overview

The President of the United States is the head of state and the head of government of the United States. He (or she, although the US has not yet had a female President) is vested with immense authority and power, and is therefore considered as the most powerful person in the world. They are not meant act to alone, though. He/she is only one cog in the machine of US government, and this is for a very good reason.

How would an American describe the Presidency to Tasmanians who don’t know anything about it?

Colin Schildhauer grew up in California, and now lives in Tasmania.

“The US Presidency holds a lot of power on a national and international level,” he explains.

To Colin, the Presidency symbolises the leadership of a country that immigrants from all over the world seek to live in, in hopes of attaining freedom, prosperity, and opportunity.

“I mentioned how the president holds a lot of power,” Colin says, “and this is particularly true if the political party that the President belongs to holds the majority in the House of Representatives.”

Colin adds that if the President’s political party does not hold the majority in the House of Representatives, it makes it difficult for him/her to pass legislation. Barak Obama’s presidency is a good example of this.

The History of the Office of President

George III, who was King of the United Kingdom between 1760 and 1820

The founding fathers of the United States didn’t trust executive authority, and were therefore sceptical about it. This distrust and scepticism stemmed from their belief that executive power was an enemy of liberty. They felt betrayed by the actions of George III, who was King of the United Kingdom between 1760 and 1820.

It’s because of this that the founding fathers believed that a strong executive branch of government wouldn’t work with the form of republicanism they embraced in the Declaration of Independence of 1776. Therefore, the Articles of Confederation (the United States’ first national constitution) didn’t establish an executive branch.

After a while, though, Americans realised that the limitations the Articles placed on the Confederation Congress made it ineffective at governing the states. They subsequently demanded a stronger federal government.

A Constitutional Convention was eventually called in 1787. It took place between May and September of the same year. The delegates who attended it originally wanted to amend the Articles of Confederation, but this idea was discarded in favour of creating a brand-new constitution that established a new system of government.

After much debate and deliberation among the delegates, it was decided that the new government would have three branches: a legislative branch (Congress); an executive branch (the President and Vice President); and a judicial branch (the court system). The three branches were designed to work together to run the country. Each branch has their own powers, but a system of checks and balances ensures that none of them become too powerful.

Most of the delegates at the Constitutional Convention wanted a chief executive who would be elected to a single one-year term by the Congress. They also wanted the chief executive to share their power with an executive council. Their power would also be countered by a strong legislature. The delegates wanted the chief executive to not have any veto or appointment powers, either.

George Washington, the first President of the US

But it was eventually decided that the chief executive – the President – would be elected to four-year terms (with no term limits established at the time), and would have powers and functions as described below. The American people would not directly vote for the President; a group of electors called the Electoral College would do so instead. It was also decided that the following requirements must be met for someone to be President: they must be a natural-born citizen of the United States; they must be at least thirty-five-years-old; and must have been a resident of the United States for at least fourteen years.

Though a President was initially allowed to serve an unlimited number of four-year terms as long as they could get enough votes to be elected, it was a tradition for Presidents to serve only two terms. The tradition was established when the first President, George Washington, announced in 1796 that he wouldn’t run for a third term, despite being popular enough to win the election.

Some Presidents before 1940 campaigned for a third term, but they were ultimately unsuccessful. Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first and only President to be elected to more than two terms. In 1951, the Twenty-Second Amendment to the Constitution was ratified. It officially made the two-term tradition law. As a result, all Presidents are now limited to serving two terms only, totalling eight years.

The modern Presidency has come to be known as ‘the Imperial Presidency’. Historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. published a book about the Imperial Presidency in 1973 because he (as well as many others) saw the Presidency as over-powering, having gone beyond its constitutional limits a long ago.

Among the points made for the Imperial Presidency’s existence are:

Arguments made against the concept of the Imperial Presidency all revolve around the fact that the executive branch (which has no institutional continuity) is just one part of the US government, and the organisation and running of the government is determined by law. The President therefore has little power in the scheme of things.

How are Presidents Elected?

Presidents are elected every four years on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

On election day, US citizens go to their polling place and cast their vote for President. The tally of these votes does not determine the winner, however. Instead, the Electoral College elects the President.

The Electoral College is made up of 538 electors from the fifty states and Washington, D.C. The electors are selected state-by-state. They are then nominated by a political party, and they pledge to vote for that party’s candidate. Most electors do so regardless, but some have voted for other candidates in the past.

To win the election, a candidate must receive a majority of electoral votes. In the event no candidate receives a majority, the House of Representatives chooses the President.

The Inauguration of a President

An inauguration is the ceremony that marks the start of a new presidential term.

Inaugurations are held for every four years, even if the President is serving for a second term.

The first inauguration, which marked the commencement of George Washington’s first term, was held in New York City on 30 April 1789. From 1793 to 1933, inauguration ceremonies were held on 4 March, the day on which the US government began operations under the new constitution in 1789. The Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1933, moved the inauguration date to 20 January. All inaugurations now take place on this date every four years.

George Washington’s first inauguration at Federation Hall in New York City

When the inauguration date has fallen on a Sunday, the President-elect has been sworn-in privately on the Sunday, and the public ceremony has taken place on the Monday.

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Inauguration ceremonies have usually been held outdoors, but have occasionally taken place indoors due to bad weather. George Washington’s first inauguration took place at Federation Hall in New York City. His second inauguration (1793) and John Adams’ first and only inauguration (1797) were both held at Congress Hall in Philadelphia in Pennsylvania. Since 1801, most inaugurations have been held at the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fourth inauguration (1945) was held at the White House. Harry Truman’s first inauguration (1945) and Gerald Ford’s (1974) were held at the White House as well.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee is responsible for planning, organising, and co-ordinating inaugurations.

The Vice President, former Presidents, Supreme Court justices, members of Congress, high-ranking military officers, living Medal of Honor recipients, and other dignitaries attend the ceremony. Out-going Presidents usually attend their successor’s inauguration, with only five not doing so (John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Johnson, Woodrow Wilson, and Richard Nixon). Members of the public are also allowed to attend the ceremony. In recent times, inaugurations have been broadcast on television and have been streamed live on the internet, allowing even more people to witness them.

Donald Trump takes the presidential oath of office (20 January 2017).

The procedure for an inauguration is not set out in the Constitution. It is instead set by tradition. The only part of any inauguration that is constitutionally required is the presidential oath of office. The oath can be administered by anyone at any place, just as long as it can be legally witnessed. It also has to be taken before the actual start of the President’s new term.

The President-elect has to take the oath before exercising the powers of the presidency and carrying out the duties of the office. Section I of Article II of the Constitution provides the wording of the oath: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

The oath is usually administered by the Chief Justice of the United States, though the Constitution does not dictate that anyone in particular should administer it. Most Presidents have added “So help me God” to the end of the oath, though this is not required by law. It is a tradition started by George Washington, who uttered the words as a personal prayer after taking the oath for the first time.

Presidents usually give an inaugural address immediately after being sworn-in. Again, this is not required by law. It is yet another tradition established by George Washington. Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a Director at the Annenberg Public Policy Center, explains that all inaugural addresses should do three things: unify the country; announce guiding principles; and affirm the limits of power.

John F. Kennedy giving his inaugural speech.

Inaugurations have expanded over the years from a simple oath-taking ceremony to a day packed full of events. These events include parades, speeches, and balls.

The Constitutional / Formal Duties of the President

The President as Chief Executive

Article II, Section I of the United States Constitution states: “The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.” This means the President is the chief executive and is in charge of the executive branch of the government.

The President as Commander-in-Chief

Article II, Section II of the Constitution makes the President the Commander-in-Chief of the US Army. This means the President can lead the Army in battle, but so far George Washington is the only one to have done so.

Diplomatic duties

Section II also grants the President power to create treaties, but he/she can only do so with the advice and consent of the Senate.

Over time, though, the President has developed the informal power to negotiate executive agreements with other governments, which are less formal than treaties and are not subject to ratification by the Senate.

The Informal Duties of the President

The President can carry out other duties that aren’t mentioned specifically in the Constitution. These informal duties are implied by the wording or the ideas in the Constitution.

War and the use of troops

As mentioned above, the Constitution makes the President the Commander-in-Chief of the US Army. But the Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war as a check on presidential power. Despite this, the President, as Commander-in-Chief, can use troops even if war hasn’t been declared. Logically, if Congress doesn’t have the chance or the time to declare war when there’s an immediate threat to the United States, the President can deploy the Army to immediately defend the country.

Executive orders

Executive orders are issued by the President.

According to the National Constitution Centre, executive orders are directives that basically have the same power as a federal law. They are also legally binding.

This does not mean that executive orders are a way for a President to create a new law, though. Instead, executive orders are a way for the President to tell federal agencies how to carry out laws that already exist. An example of this was Donald Trump’s 2017 executive order telling the Department of Homeland Security to deny people from seven Muslim-majority countries entry into the United States.

Donald Trump signs the executive order halting immigrants from some Muslim-majority countries from entering the US.

Executive orders can be over-turned by the Supreme Court. Bill Clinton, for example, signed an executive order in 1995 that would have prohibited employers from hiring permanent replacements for workers who were on strike, but it was over-turned because the Supreme Court thought it conflicted with already-existing legislation. Similarly, Harry Truman issued an executive order in 1952 to take control of steel mills, but the Supreme Court believed it was unconstitutional, and it was thus overturned.

Congress can also create new laws that can neutralise an executive order. A new President can also revoke a past executive order with an executive order of their own. This was seen when Barack Obama issued an executive order in 2009 that revoked George W. Bush’s order to block stem cell research.

Presidential proclamations

Presidents can also issue proclamations, which are aimed at US citizens.

According to the U.S. Federal Register, there are two types of presidential proclamations: ceremonial and substantive. Ceremonial proclamations designate special observances (e.g. the passing of a former President), and substantive proclamations usually declare a new law. Substantive proclamations can also be used to issue information about international trade and other things.
USA Today explains that “proclamations are the oldest form of presidential directive, and theoretically the most sweeping”.

Presidential memoranda

Presidents use memoranda to give orders to members of their cabinet.

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The Impeachment of a President

Origin of impeachment

During the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Benjamin Franklin asked what should happen to a President when he “has rendered himself obnoxious.”

At the time of the Convention, many countries didn’t have leaders who were elected by popular vote. They also didn’t have ways to remove them from power. So, the founding fathers didn’t have any precedents to work from. They ended up turning to a provision of British common law called ‘impeachment’, a process which consisted of a trial, subsequent conviction, and the following punishment. They inserted impeachment into the Constitution, adding in a number of unique features to it.

Impeachment according to the U.S. Constitution

Section IV of Article II states: “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” What the Founding Fathers meant by “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” is unknown because they didn’t define them in the Constitution. Having said this, Michael Gerhardt, a professor of constitutional law at UNC Chapel Hill, explains that “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” are “thought to be serious offenses against the republic and serious breaches of trust”.

Section II of Article I states: “The House of Representatives […] shall have the sole Power of Impeachment”. Section III of Article I continues:

“The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present. Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States; but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.”

The procedure for impeachment

The procedure for impeaching a President is a process that has three steps.

First, after an impeachment resolution is introduced by a member of the House of Representatives, Congress investigates the allegation(s). The investigation usually starts in the House Judiciary Committee, but it has started elsewhere in the past. For example, the impeachment inquiry into Richard Nixon and his role in Watergate started in the Senate Judiciary Committee. If the House Judiciary Committee finds that there is truth to the allegation(s), they will approve the impeachment resolution.

The House of Representatives then passes articles of impeachment (which constitute the formal allegation(s)) by a two-thirds majority vote. Upon passage of the articles, the defendant has officially been impeached.

The House of Representatives votes to adopt the articles of impeachment against Donald Trump

The Senate then tries the accused, with the Chief Justice presiding over the proceedings. Conviction requires a two-thirds vote. If found guilty, the accused is removed from office.

So far…

Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump are the only Presidents so far who have been impeached.

Johnson was impeached over his firing of his Secretary of War, and Clinton was impeached over his actions and comments during the Clinton-Lewinsky Scandal. Trump was impeached on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Richard Nixon came close to being impeached because of his involvement in Watergate, but he resigned before proceedings could get underway. He was later granted a full unconditional pardon by his successor, Gerald Ford.

For more information about impeachment, watch this video: ‘Can The President Go To Jail?’

The Salary and Residence of the President

Salary

Article II, Section I of the Constitution states:

“The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be encreased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.”

Since 2017, the President’s salary has been $US400,000 a year, paid monthly. The President also receives “an expense allowance of $US50,000 to assist in defraying expenses relating to or resulting from the discharge of his official duties”. The President receives a $US100,000 travel allowance as well.

The reason Presidents receive an expense allowance is because they have to pay for their own meals. Also, when a President throws a private party, they have to pay for the catering. Presidents also have to pay for day-to-day items, like toothpaste and clothes.

Congress is responsible for raising the presidential salary. It has so far done so six times, mainly to keep up with inflation. The salary was initially set at $US25,000 a year (or $US720,000 in today’s money). In 1872, Congress increased the salary to $US50,000 (or $US1.1 million in today’s money). The salary was again raised in 1908 to $US75,000 (or $US2.2 million in today’s money). It was then increased in 1948 to $US100,000 (or $US1.1 million in today’s money). Congress doubled the $US100,000 salary in 1968, which meant that it sat at $200,000 (or $US1.2 million in today’s money). The salary was doubled once again in 2000, making it sit at $US400,000 (or $US600,000 in today’s money). The salary currently sits at $US400,000.

The White House

The White House

The home and workplace of the President is the White House.

The site for the residence was selected by George Washington. It was designed by James Hoban, an Irish-born architect, who took inspiration from Leinster House in Ireland.

The corner-stone of the White House was laid in 1792. European immigrants, along with free and enslaved African-Americans, played a key role in the House’s construction, which took several years.

George Washington never got to live in the House because he left office before it was completed. The second President, John Adams, was the first to live in it.

The War of 1812 (a conflict between the United States and the United Kingdom) erupted on 18th June 1812, and it didn’t end until 1815. British troops invaded Washington, D.C. on 24th August 1814, so President James Madison and his wife, Dolly Madison, had to evacuate the White House. Before they left, Dolly demanded a painting of George Washington that was on display in the White House be saved, so it was taken with them. The British subsequently burned the White House to the ground. It was re-built on the exact same spot, and the painting of George Washington was put back on display. It continues to hang in the White House to this day.

The White House became overcrowded by the time of the Civil War because the President was required to live and work on only two storeys. Plans were put forward to either expand the house or build an entirely new residence for the President, but these were rejected by Congress. Minor renovations were done instead. It wasn’t until 1902 that that a major renovation took place. This renovation included the relocation of the President’s offices from the second floor of the residence to the newly-constructed West Wing. William Howard Taft had the now-famous Oval Office built in an enlarged office wing of the West Wing in 1909.

By the time Harry Truman ascended to the Presidency in the mid-1940s, the White House was riddled with serious structural weaknesses due to the various renovations, as well as general wear and tear. It was full of rotting floorboards, cracked plaster, and faulty wiring. Some suggested knocking the house down and then re-building it from scratch, but Truman instead ordered an extensive renovation which would see everything except the outer stone walls dismantled and put back together around a steel frame.

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Today, the White House is not only the home of the President and his/her family but is also a museum of American history. It has: 132 rooms; 35 bathrooms; 8 staircases; 3 elevators; five full-time chefs; a single-lane bowling alley; a movie theatre; a jogging track; a swimming pool; a putting green; and much, much more.

A virtual online tour of the White House can be found here.

Former Presidents

Five Presidents (L-R: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and George H.W. Bush)

The life of a former President

Back in the day, a former President had to find another job to get by, unless they were already well-off. For example, George Washington became a whiskey distiller, and William Taft became the Chief Justice of the United States.

Nowadays, former Presidents don’t have to find another job. This is thanks to the Former Presidents Act (see below) and well-paid post-Presidency opportunities.

The life of a former President is therefore pretty good.

Many former Presidents have published books. Others have continued (or even improved) their work. For example, Jimmy Carter has led perhaps the most successful post-Presidency since leaving office. He founded the Carter Center in 1982, and has become heavily involved with Habitat for Humanity. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, and has also published dozens of books.

Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama have earned quite a lot of money from speeches and book deals.

The Former Presidents Act

In 1958, the Former Presidents Act was signed into law.

It gives former Presidents a taxable pension that “is equal to the annual rate of basic pay, as in effect from time to time, of the head of an executive department”, which is currently set at $US207,800 a year. The decision to give former Presidents a pension was made to ensure they didn’t struggle financially like Harry Truman did. Truman only received an army pension of $US112 a month after he left office, and found it hard to pay his bills.

Former Presidents are also given additional funding from the US government for office space, staff, travel, and postage fees. They are given lifetime protection from the Secret Service as well.

The Former Presidents Act, being law, can only be amended or scrapped by a new bill that is signed into law by the President.

The Presidential Allowance Modernization Act

There’s no doubt that the Former Presidents Act has assisted former Presidents in paying the bills, but times have changed.

Former Presidents now make millions of dollars from lucrative post-Presidency opportunities, including book deals and speaking fees. For example, Bill Clinton has earned over $US100 million by giving speeches and writing books since he left office in 2001.

In 2016, a bill titled The Presidential Allowance Modernization Act was passed by Congress. It would have capped former Presidents’ pensions at $US200,000, and also capped the funds provided to them for office space, staff, travel, and postage fees. It would’ve also reduced the pension dollar-for-dollar by each dollar of income a former President earns in excess of $US400,000. Even though the bill was passed by both houses of Congress, Barack Obama vetoed the bill. His press secretary issued the following statement regarding the veto:

“President Obama shares the goal of streamlining pensions given to former Presidents as a means to reduce costs to taxpayers. He stands ready to work with Congress on legislation to get that done. Unfortunately, this bill as written would immediately terminate salaries and all benefits to staffers carrying out the official duties of former Presidents – leaving no time or mechanism for them to transition to another payroll. As written, this bill would also impair Secret Service’s ability to protect former Presidents by ending GSA’s role in managing operations, equipment and office space. Under this bill, GSA must immediately terminate leases, and remove furniture from offices of former Presidents working to fulfilling their continued public service responsibilities. The President’s decision to veto this bill was made after consultations with the offices of each of the former Presidents, and is responsive to concerns they raised to us. We are working with Congress on the technical fixes to resolve these issues. If Congress provides these technical fixes, the President would sign the bill.”

The Presidential Allowance Modernization Act was re-introduced in Congress in 2019 by Senators Joni Ernst and Maggie Hassan. When they re-introduced it, Ernst explained: “The national debt recently exceeded $22 trillion, thanks in part to taxpayer-funded presidential perks. It’s time we cap the monetary allowances allotted to former presidents and reign in Washington’s out-of-control spending.” Hassan added: “This legislation […] is a common-sense step to ensure that taxpayer dollars are well-spent.”

If it becomes law, The Presidential Allowance Modernization Act will only apply to future former Presidents. Current former Presidents (Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama) will continue receiving benefits via the existing system due to a grandfather clause.

The 2020 Presidential Election

The 2020 presidential election is scheduled for Tuesday, 3 November 2020.

The Candidates

Donald Trump

Donald Trump, the incumbent President, is the Republican Party’s candidate.

The Democratic Party’s candidate is Joe Biden, who served as Vice President under Barack Obama.

Debates

Three debates between Trump and Biden are going to take place. They are scheduled for 29 September, 15 October, and 22 October.

How does Colin Schildhauer view this year’s election?

Colin views this year’s race as a ticking time bomb, and one of the greatest cons of all time.

“It’s volatile,” he explains.

“Trump has already said that he will not accept defeat. He seems willing to do anything he possible can to sabotage a fair election.”

Biden at his presidential kickoff rally in Philadelphia (May 2019)

It bothers Colin that Trump has convinced his supporters that he is fighting for them.

“I think he cares about one thing: how he can use the presidency for his financial gain,” he says.

Colin wants to see Joe Biden win.

“There should be no way for Trump to serve another term, in my opinion.”

Colin has observed that the United States has rapidly declined during Trump’s four-year term.

“It used to be a country that once served as a positive role model to other countries. It symbolised equality, freedom, and opportunity.”

“If Tump can collude his way into another four years, his goals of turning the US into a of a white America dictatorship will continue while he uses his presidency for his own lucrative gain in one of the largest cons ever displayed before the world.”

Bibliography

Source: Tasmanian Times https://tasmaniantimes.com/2020/09/united-states-presidency/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=united-states-presidency

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