Path to the Presidency: What does the Constitution say about the executive office?
By John Vettese, Student Voices staff writer
The requirements to become president have not changed much over the years. Article II, Section I, of the Constitution lists three main eligibility requirements:
• He or she must be a natural-born citizen of the United States.
• He or she must have lived in the United States for the previous 14 years.
• He or she must be over the age of 35.
But since the rise of political parties soon after the nation was founded, having a party’s nomination is also important. The custom of party nominations led to the creation of a primary election process in which the two major political parties – Republicans and Democrats – each select a candidate to represent their party for president on the general election ballot.
What powers does the president have?
The president represents the executive branch of the federal government. The executive (the president and his or her administration) is one of the three branches of government established by the Constitution; the two others are the legislative (Congress) and the judicial (the U.S. courts).
The powers of the executive office are outlined in the Constitution. Among them:
• The president can sign into law any legislation passed by Congress. The president can also veto any legislation passed by Congress, but the veto can be overturned by a two-thirds majority vote in both houses (Article I, Section 7).
• The president appoints the Supreme Court justices, but they must be approved by the Senate (Article II, Section 2).
• The president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces (Article II, Section 2).
• The president appoints people to run the executive agencies, such as the State Department and the Department of Health and Human Services (Article II, Section 2).
• With a two-thirds majority of the Senate, the president can enter into treaties with foreign nations (Article II, Section 2).
• The president can pardon anyone serving in federal prison (Article II, Section 2).
Additionally, the president must report regularly to Congress on the affairs of the country. This is customarily done in a State of the Union address before Congress.
Changes over time
After the initial roles, responsibilities and processes were listed in the Constitution and the young government’s operations got under way, modifications to the founders’ plan were ratified in these amendments:
• The 12th Amendment says the president and vice president should not be from the same state to keep one region of the country from getting too much power.
• The 20th Amendment establishes Inauguration Day so it always falls on Jan. 20. Before, the new president did not take office until March, and there was a long period when the outgoing “lame duck” president did not get much accomplished.
• The 20th and 25th Amendments established the line of succession; if the president cannot serve, the vice president steps in. This was expanded by the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, so the speaker of the House follows the vice president, the president pro Tempore of the Senate follows the speaker, and then members of the president’s Cabinet.
• After Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected to a fourth term in 1944, Congress passed the 22nd Amendment, which limits a president to no more than two four-year terms (with exceptions if a vice president has to fill in the remaining term of a president who dies in office).
Some believe the presidency has gained too much power over the two other branches of government. Presidents have sent U.S. military forces into wars without the formal consent of Congress. When signing bills into law, they have used signing statements to say they believe part of the bill is unconstitutional they refuse to implement it.
What do you think?
If the Founding Fathers knew then what we know now, what do you think they would change about the way the executive branch works? Do you agree with the amendments that affect the executive branch? Do you think other changes should be made about the president’s responsibilities? What qualifications do you think are most important in a president? Join the discussion!
Join the Discussion