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Formal and informal powers of the US president

The President of the United States holds both formal and informal powers. Formal powers, listed in the Constitution, include executive, legislative, foreign policy, military, and judicial roles. Informal powers, like executive orders and signing statements, stem from the President's unique position in government.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] What we're going to do in this video is talk about the powers of the President of the United States, and we're going to broadly divide them into two categories. Formal powers are those that are explicitly listed in the United States Constitution. And we're also gonna talk about informal powers a little bit in this video and a lot more depth into future videos. The formal powers are listed in Article II of the United States Constitution, and it starts in Section 1 where it says the executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. And this simple statement alone has a lot of implications. As we will see, it is used as a justification for many of the informal powers of the President. The President is the executive. They run the government. Congress can pass laws and set budgets. The judicial branch can interpret laws or declare them unconstitutional. But the executive power is vested in the President. But the bulk of the powers are listed in Section 2 and Section 3. So let's read this together and let's see if we can classify these different powers as executive, legislative, foreign policy or military, or judicial powers. So Section 2 of Article II starts off with the President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States. So this is clearly a military power. You have the President of the United States being in charge of the nation's military. It then goes on to say he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices. So this is clearly an executive power or an administrative power, where he can go to the head of any of the executive departments and say, hey, I need your opinion on something, potentially in writing. Then it goes on to say and he shall have Power to grain Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment. So this is a judicial power. Grant reprieves and pardons for federal offenses. Then we read, he shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur. So this power to make treaties is clearly a foreign policy power, although it does have to be ratified by the Senate. And he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law. But the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments. So all of these lines here talked about the President's power of appointment, which is why I underlined it in the executive or the administrative color, although it touches on appointments that affect these other powers. So, for example, the appointment of ambassadors is clearly going to have foreign policy implications. And judges of the Supreme Court. This could have huge judicial implications. So I will underline that in blue, as well. It then goes on to say, and this is in relation to the appointments we just talked about, the President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate. Because remember, it just talked about how the Senate has to confirm appointments. But the President does have the power to fill up vacancies while the Senate is in recess, while they're not in session, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session. And then in Section 3, we read, he, the President, although it could be a she, shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he or she shall judge necessary and expedient. He may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper. So these are all ways, these are all powers that the President has in the legislative process. And then it goes back to foreign policy. He shall receive Ambassadors and other public ministers. He shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States. This statement, he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, in conjunction with what is sometimes known as the Vesting Clause, which is at the very beginning of Article II, Section 1, that simply states the executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States. These two clauses combined have been used to justify what we will see are called informal powers, which we will go into much more depth into future videos, especially the power of the executive order. And so, in summary, if we wanna look at the executive powers of the President. The power to take care that laws be faithfully executed. Nominating officials with confirmation from the Senate. Request written opinions of administrative officials. Fill administrative vacancies during recesses. Then you have the legislative powers. Present info on the State of the Union. Recommend legislation to Congress. Convene both houses on extraordinary occasions. Adjourn Congress if House and Senate cannot agree. And can veto legislation, although Congress can overrule with a two-thirds vote. And then you have the foreign policy and military powers, which include being the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Making treaties, which have to be ratified by the Senate. Nominate ambassadors, receive ambassadors, and provide diplomatic recognition to other governments. And then finally, the judicial powers that we saw in Article 2. Reprieves and pardons for federal offenses and the power to nominate federal judges, including US Supreme Court judges. Now, as I touched on, these are the formal powers, but there's also what are known as informal powers, and we'll talk more about these in other videos. The President has a unique role in the federal government and in national discourse as a whole, and because of that, they have a lot of bargaining and persuasion power. Now, as we also touched on, we have an informal power of executive orders, which is derived from the formal powers to take care that laws be faithfully executed and the fact that the power of the executive is vested in the President. You also have things called signing statements, which we'll do future videos on, which is when a law gets passed by Congress, the President can issue a document known as a signing statement which interprets that law. And as you can imagine, that interpretation of the law could be very, very influential. And then you also have executive agreements. These are agreements with foreign governments that do not have to be ratified by the US Senate. So they're not formal treaties, but they can be agreements with governments. So I will leave you there. As you can see, the President has many tools at their disposal to influence the policy-making process. In future videos, we will talk more about these, especially the informal powers.