Chapter 9 The Executive Branch What's Ahead in Chapter 9

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The Executive Branch

What's Ahead in Chapter 9

In this chapter you will read about the responsibilities of the President. You will also learn about the responsibilities of the executive branch of the government that the President heads.


The Roles of the President


The Organization of the Executive Branch


Presidents and Power


In this chapter you will focus on clarifying meaning to help you better understand what you read. Clarifying meaning includes reading ahead, rereading, and paraphrasing.

The White House


National Standards for Civics and Government

The following National Standards for Civics and Government are covered in this chapter:

III. How does the government established by the Constitution embody American democracy?

A. How are power and responsibility distributed, shared, and limited in the government?

B. What does the national government do?

Civics in the Real World

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be President of the United States? Here is what several Presidents have said about the job.

Though I occupy a very high position, I am the hardest working man in the country.

James K. Polk (1845-1849)

I have thoroughly enjoyed being President. But I believe I can also say that I am thoroughly alive to the tremendous responsibilities of the position.

Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)

Being a President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.

Harry S Truman (1945-1953)

No easy problems ever come to the President of the United States. If they are easy to solve, somebody else has solved them. —Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961)

There is no experience you can get that can possibly prepare you adequately for the presidency.

John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)

Citizen's Journal When discussing their time in the White House, Presidents have often described the presidency as an extremely difficult job. Why do you think the presidency is such a demanding position? Write a paragraph explaining your opinion on this question.



The Roles of the President

Reading Preview


In this section you will

• Learn why the Framers created the office of President with limits.

• Describe the various roles of the President.

• Identify which of the President's roles have been created by tradition.

Taking Notes

Make a diagram like the one below. As you read the section, complete the diagram with information about the different roles of the President of the United States.

Key Terms

executive branch

foreign policy


executive agreements

domestic policy

Main Idea

The President of the United States is a very powerful person who plays many roles in the government. However, the President's power is deliberately limited by the Constitution.

Target Reading Skill

Reading Ahead Reading ahead can help explain something you have just read. If an idea or word is not clear, keep reading, because something in the next paragraph or two may help clarify the meaning of that word or idea.

Presidents are often associated with events that took place during their terms. Abraham Lincoln was President during the Civil War.

As our highest elected official, the President of the United States represents all Americans, not just citizens of one state or congressional district. It is the President who usually meets with leaders of other nations, and whose daily activities are closely followed by the television networks, newspapers, and newsmagazines. Just about everyone knows who the President is.

How many Americans, though, have a clear picture of what the President does? The President is the head of the executive branch, the branch of government responsible for executing, or carrying out, the law. However, carrying out laws is only part of the President's job. The most important duty is to set goals for the nation and to develop policies, which are methods for reaching those goals.

This heavy responsibility goes with an office that many think is the most powerful in the world. The office of President also has limits, though, which are set by the Constitution. To understand the powers and responsibilities of the presidency, as well as its limits, you need to look first at how the office was created.

Creating the Office of President

In creating the presidency, the Framers did not want a leader with unlimited powers. The memory of the tyranny of the British king was fresh in the minds of many Americans. To calm the people's fears, the Framers gave very few specific powers to the President. They also included ways to prevent the abuse of power.


Term of Office One limit on the President's power is the term of office. The President is elected for a term of four years and must run for reelection in order to serve a second term. No President may hold office for more than two terms.

Limited Power Another protection is the separation of powers among the three branches of government. The President cannot make laws but can only carry out those made by Congress. The Supreme Court has the power to decide whether a law is constitutional.

The system of checks and balances also limits the President's power. Congress must approve many presidential decisions. In cases of serious wrongdoing, Congress may remove the President from office. Furthermore, the Supreme Court can decide whether actions taken by the President are allowed by the Constitution.

Qualifications and Salary To be President, a person must be at least 35 years old and a natural-born citizen of the United States. He or she must have lived in the United States for at least 14 years. The President's yearly salary is set by Congress.

Reading Check How many years is one term of office for the President?

Herbert Hoover (top left) was President when the country fell into the Great Depression. Jimmy Carter (top right, standing in the middle) helped to bring peace between Israel and Egypt. Woodrow Wilson (above) took the United States into World War I.


A Leader With Many Roles

The Framers knew that the nation needed a leader who could both carry out laws and represent the nation in meeting leaders of other countries. The office of President was new in a world of nations led by monarchs. Therefore, the Framers did not describe exactly how the President should fulfill the duties of this new office. Expecting that George Washington would be elected as the nation's first leader, they trusted that he would become a model of what a President should be. As Washington himself noted:

"I walk on untrodden ground. There is scarcely any part of my conduct which may not hereafter be drawn into precedent [made an example of]."

Through the examples of Washington and the Presidents who followed him, the roles of the President have become more clearly defined over the years.

Analyze Diagrams

Roles of the President

As leader of the executive branch, the President has many important roles. The images on this page and the next illustrate some of the many functions of the office of the President.

a. Why do you think the role of chief diplomat is an important one for the President?

b. Which of the President's roles do you think is the most difficult? Why?

Legislative Leader

One of the President's duties as legislative leader is to give an annual State of the Union address to all Americans. Here, President George W. Bush delivers his address before officials from all three branches of government.

Chief Diplomat

Acting as chief diplomat President Richard Nixon made a historic trip to the People's Republic of China in 1972. Nixon's visit to China was hailed as a diplomatic triumph during the Cold War.

Commander in Chief

In this photo, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (center) meets with Richard Byrd (left), an admiral in the U.S. Navy.


Judicial Powers

The President chooses justices for the Supreme Court and other federal courts. In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a justice to the Supreme Court. As leader of the executive branch, the President has many important roles.

Chief Executive The President serves as chief executive, or head of the executive branch. The Constitution states that the President must "take care that the laws be faithfully executed?' To execute laws means to make sure that they are carried out. Although Congress makes the laws, it is up to executive branch officials to decide just how to carry out laws and other policies.

As leader of the executive branch, the President usually makes only the broadest decisions, leaving the details to other officials. One way in which the President gives orders is through executive orders, which are rules and regulations that governments must follow. The power to make executive orders, however, is limited. The President's orders may not violate the Constitution or laws passed by Congress.

As chief executive, the President also has the power to appoint about 4,000 executive branch officials. As a check on that power, Congress must confirm, or approve, many top appointments.


Links to History

Major Military Operations Since World War II

World War II was the last war fought in which the President 1940 asked Congress for a declaration of war. Since then, United States armed forces have been in combat several times, including the following:

1950-1953 Korean War

1961-1973 Vietnam War

1965 Dominican Republic

1983 Grenada

1989 Panama

1991 Gulf War (Kuwait and Iraq)

1992-1993 Somalia

1999 Kosovo

2003- Iraq

Commander in Chief The Constitution says that "The President shall be commander in chief of the army and navy of the United States." This statement points to the President's important role as leader of the armed forces. This role was given to the President because the Framers of the Constitution wanted to maintain civilian authority over the military.

While the President is expected to set military goals and approve military tactics, military leaders and specialists often discourage the commander in chief from getting involved in daily operations. Yet when the nation is at war, the President makes the most important decisions.

To protect American interests, the President may send troops to a foreign country even if Congress has not declared war. However, the War Powers Resolution, passed after the Vietnam War, says that such troops may not remain for more than 60 days without the approval of Congress.

The President's role as head of the armed forces has grown dramatically since the days of George Washington. It carries an awesome power that can weigh heavily on the President. Besides affecting American soldiers who are sent to fight on foreign soil, the President's decisions can also alter the lives of other nations and change the course of history. One example of the sober nature of this responsibility is the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan in World War 11. Even though there was much consultation between the executive branch, the armed forces, and the members of Congress, the plan to end the war with Japan with this action could not have proceeded without the authorization of President Harry S Truman.

Chief Diplomat The President is also our chief diplomat, the most important representative of the United States in relations with other nations. The President leads in making foreign policy, a set of plans guiding our nation's relationships with other countries. Although they usually seek advice on foreign policy, Presidents must make the final decisions. As President Truman put it, "I make foreign policy."

Foreign policy is clearly the President's "territory," but Congress may set limits. For instance, the President may make treaties, or formal agreements, with other countries, but the Senate may reject any treaty.

The Senate must also approve the President's appointments of ambassadors. Ambassadors are the official representatives to foreign governments.


Shaping Our Laws

President George W. Bush is shown promoting his No Child Left Behind Act, which his administration hoped would improve education in American schools.

Draw Inferences Why do you think the Constitution prevents Congress from acting alone in making laws?

The President does have freedom, though, to make executive agreements, agreements with other countries that do not need Senate approval. Executive agreements may have a wide range of purposes. They may set goals for trade or make promises to give aid to other countries.

Legislative Leader Congress makes our nation's laws. The President, however, has a good deal of power to influence what those laws will be and how they are enforced. The Constitution states that the President may recommend to Congress "such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient." This means that Congress is expected to consider the President's ideas and not act alone in making laws.

Early each year, the President gives a speech to both houses of Congress. In this State of the Union Address, the President sets forth ideas about what America's foreign policy should be. The President also talks about problems at home, such as taxes and health care. By describing these problems and presenting ideas for solving them, the President helps to set domestic policy, a set of plans for dealing with national problems.

How does a President persuade Congress to turn foreign and domestic policies into laws? One way is by getting members of Congress to write bills. Another is by calling and meeting with members of Congress, urging them to support the President's programs. Speeches to interest groups and to the public also help gain support for bills the President wants passed.

A powerful tool for influencing Congress to take action is the veto. The threat of a veto is often enough to get Congress to change a bill to make it more to the President's liking. Congress has overridden only about 4 percent of the more than 2,500 vetoes in our nation's history.

Target Reading Skill

Read Ahead Read the first paragraph under the heading Legislative Leader. Then keep reading to find out about the President's power to influence lawmaking.


Analyzing Political Cartoons

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, known as FDR, was the President who brought the United States out of the Great Depression. He did so by pressuring Congress to enact a sweeping series of programs known as the New Deal.

1. What does the snail represent? Why do you think the cartoonist chose to use a snail?

2. What point does the cartoon make about the President's power as legislative leader?

Another way in which the President acts as legislative leader is in making the budget. To put policy ideas into action costs money. Every year, the President consults committees and advisers, and then prepares a budget, a plan for how to raise and spend money to carry out the President's programs.

Congress does not pass all the laws the President requests, and it almost always makes changes in the President's budget. However, Congress cannot ignore the President's power as legislative leader.

Finally, the President has the power to call special sessions of Congress if Congress is not meeting. Today, however, Congress meets for almost the whole year, so this power is not much used.

Judicial Powers As part of the system of checks and balances, the President chooses Supreme Court justices and other federal judges. Of course, the President's power is balanced by the Senate, which must confirm these appointments.

The President may limit the power of the judicial branch by putting off or reducing the punishment of someone convicted of a crime in federal courts. The President may even do away with the punishment by granting a pardon, or a release from punishment.

Reading Check How does the President influence the making of laws?


Roles Created by Tradition

Over the years, the President has taken on two other roles: party leader and chief of state. Neither role is mentioned explicitly in the Constitution, yet both are natural results of the President's position and power.

The President is a member of a political party, typically either the Democratic party or the Republican party. As our highest elected official, the President is seen as the leader of that party. The President's power and prestige can be used to support party goals or candidates. During election years, the President will frequently give speeches and attend fundraisers throughout the country to help support members of the party who are running for important offices.

As chief of state, the President is expected to speak for the whole nation, expressing the values and goals of the American people. The President carries out many ceremonial duties, such as greeting visiting leaders and giving medals to citizens. In this role, the President is very much like a monarch, who traditionally carries out ceremonial duties. As chief of state, the President stands for a national unity that overshadows differences between the political parties. The President also stands as a symbol of the United States of America.

Reading Check What other two roles has the President taken on over the years that are not mentioned in the Constitution?

In 2000, Marian Wright Edelman, President of the Children's Defense Fund, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Section 1 Assessment

Key Terms

Use each of the key terms in a sentence that explains its meaning: executive branch, foreign policy, ambassadors, executive agreements, foreign policy

Target Reading Skill

1. Read Ahead Turn back to page 245. How did reading ahead help you better understand how the President sets domestic policy?

Comprehension and Critical Thinking


a. Recall For how many terms may a President hold office?

b. Demonstrate Reasoned Judgment Why do you think Congress, rather than the Constitution, sets the President's salary?


a. Describe What is the military role of the President? b. Draw Inferences How do the actions of Presidents help define the office of President?


a. Describe What does the President do as head of a political party?

b. Check Consistency How do the President's two roles as party leader and chief of state conflict?

Writing Activity

Write a letter to James Madison, the "Father of the Constitution." Tell Madison how the office of the President has evolved since his lifetime. In your letter, explain the different responsibilities and powers of the presidency today.

TIP Write an outline using the heads of each subsection in Section 1. Find a detail or two that you can use to illustrate the main idea of each paragraph.


How to Conduct a Survey

The United States is a representative democracy. This means that public officials act on behalf of the citizens who elected them. To do this effectively, they must know how citizens feel about different issues.

Surveys are a good way of determining public opinion. A survey is a list of questions. Many people answer these questions. The results of a survey give a good idea of how people may feel about different issues.

Forced-Choice Questions

A forced-choice question makes the person give a definite answer. For example, the person may have to choose either "yes" or "no."

Example: The minimum voting age should be raised to 21.

_____ yes _____ no

Scaled Questions

Scaled questions ask a person to gauge how strongly they feel about an issue.

Example: Circle your reaction to the following statement: The Constitution continues to meet the needs of America today.

Disagree Uncertain Agree

Ranked Questions

A ranked question gives a list of items. The person must put them in order of importance to him or her.

Example: Rank the following in order of importance. Use a 1 for the freedom you think is most important and a 3 for the freedom you think is least important.

_____ freedom of the press

_____ freedom of speech

_____ freedom of assembly

Learn the Skill

To conduct a survey, follow these steps:

1. Choose an issue and write survey questions. Think of an issue that is of importance to many people. Include each type of question in your survey.

2. Ask people to fill out the survey. Ask at least ten people.

3. Compile the results. How many people answered each question the same way?

Practice the Skill

1. Write two examples of each type of question.

2. Have a partner read your questions to make sure they are clear and worded fairly.

Apply the Skill

1. Choose an issue, and write six survey questions about it.

2. Ask 20 people to complete your survey.

3. Compile the results, and report them to the class



The Organization of the Executive Branch

Reading Preview


In this section you will

• Learn about the Executive Office of the President.

• Identify the executive departments.

• Identify the independent agencies.

• Understand the civil service system.

Key Terms




Main Idea

The executive branch of the government includes the President, the White House staff, the Vice President, the executive departments, and the independent agencies.

Target Reading Skill

Paraphrase Paraphrasing is the skill of putting something you have read in your own words. It can help you confirm your understanding of what you have just read.

Taking Notes

Make a diagram like the one below. As you read the section, complete the diagram with information about the way the executive branch is organized.

As our nation has grown, the President's duties have grown, too. Each year, hundreds of laws must be carried out. Decisions must be made on a wide range of foreign and domestic policy issues. To fulfill their many duties, Presidents have needed more and more help. The executive branch has grown from a few hundred officials in George Washington's time to about 3 million employees today. It is now the largest branch of government.

As it has grown, the executive branch has become a huge bureaucracy. A bureaucracy (byoo RAH kruh see) is an organization of government departments, agencies, and offices. Most people who work in the bureaucracy are not chosen to work just for one President. They are hired as permanent employees.

To help direct the bureaucracy, the President appoints a team of executive branch officials, or an administration. The nearly 2,000 members of the administration lead the three main parts of the executive branch: (1) the Executive Office of the President, (2) the executive departments, and (3) the independent agencies.

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