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Article II of the U.S. Constitution

Jeffrey Rosen of the National Constitution Center in conversation with Walter Isaacson of the Aspen Institute.  Created by Aspen Institute.

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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user ∫∫ Greg Boyle  dG dB
    Should the Electoral College be eliminated in favor of electing the President by popular vote? Why or why not?
    (9 votes)
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    • purple pi purple style avatar for user Liz R.
      Yes! Eliminate the Electoral College. It is unwieldy and outmoded; and it no longer serves a reasonable purpose, if it ever did. Electing the President by popular vote, as we do all other public officials, makes much more sense today. It is now possible to vote and count those votes instantly. The drafters of the Constitution wanted the people to choose their government. Eliminating the Electoral College would make that a reality. Good question!
      (1 vote)

Video transcript

I'm Walter Isaacson the vast ministry numb with Jeffrey Rosen of the national constitutions and are talking about the Constitution and now let's move on to article 2 that's the one about the president and starts by saying the executive power shall be vested in a president of the United States what does that mean well it means that the executive power and all of the executive power shall be vested in the president and that has led to many of our most hotly contested controversies today because the question is can Congress impinge on the executive power and debates over war-making power and the power to declare recess appointments and the scope of the president's power in the war on terror all of that turns on what it means to have executive power vested in a single president and this is one of those articles that's been amended a lot like how do we choose a president and you see if you read your constitution some of its in bracket like and they get very specific like the electors shall meet in their respective states and then some amendment comes along and changes it why did they get so specific my goodness well it is among the most dizzying of all constitutional provisions the original electoral system was extremely complicated and we can read it in brackets and basically the top vote-getter would be president and number two would be vice president that led to have mastered it was not a great idea so the constitution was amended we have our current electoral college system and many people think of that too is a bit of a mess because it can lead as it has an occasion to the winner of the popular vote losing the presidency because he's not doesn't win the majority of electoral votes but the framers were so concerned about not creating a king and also accurately representing both small states and large states that they debated tremendously how the brother and I think we have to remember that nobody had ever done this before nobody ever written down how are we going to choose a leader of a great nation I mean this is an amazing accomplishment of Alexander Hamilton is standing up in the Constitutional Convention and saying the president should be elected for life he wanted to have a monarch John Adams wanted to be addressed as his executive majesty so the idea of an elect president with limited turns was a revolution and as an incredible contribution so that's why they had to sort of get this is a bit tied up and exactly how are we going to accomplish this because they couldn't just have everybody in the United States vote all at once the way we would think you could do today right nowadays of course many people think that's the only natural way to elect a president is by popular vote but not only were they not ready to do that because of balancing large and small states but they also didn't think of themselves as an unchecked democracy was a limited Republic they were balancing rural and Varian interest and all of that comes through an article too yeah when we get to secta to have article to once again you have this constitute an enumerated the duties and powers of as they did with Congress an article one now they're doing it with the president so it says the President shall be commander-in-chief of the army and navy what what was that all about civilian control of the army was a central contribution that the framers make were making they Dave feared Napoleon and military dictators they wanted to make sure that the armed forces were subordinate to the president so that was an incredibly important Club then why did they say that Congress shall have the right to declare a war but then say the president should be commander of chief doesn't that lead to attention that tension was central to their thinking they they they don't want the elected president to have unchecked power it has war has to be carried out with congressional approval and the balance between those two clauses is again hotly contested today when Congress passed a war powers resolution requiring the Congress to the President to report after he sends troops without congressional consent some claim that that violated the commander-in-chief clause which vests military power in the president extensively so the boundaries are still being very humbling to me yeah I think they started debating it with George Washington who was very much in favor allowing Congress the power to declare war until suddenly he got into a bit of a mess with the Indians and he said I'm commander-in-chief I just get to go do this and even today we're trying to figure out even our most recent wars have not really been formally declared by Congress right they have not at all you're absolutely right of course that George Washington was the first president and it's remarkable how many presidents have insisted that they have the power without congressional approval to send the troops the most recent drama over that what we've had examples in Syria in other places but after nine eleven Congress did pass a use-of-force resolution authorizing the president to go hunt down al Qaeda and several presidents have invoked that resolution to claim far broader powers than some people think Congress initially authorized it also says the President shall have the power by him with the advice and consent of the Senate to make treaties and he goes on to talk about appointing ambassadors everything else did they mean to put the conduct of foreign policy in the hands of the president mainly I think there was a concern that under the Articles of Confederation any kind of treaties of both economic or in terms of foreign policy or impossible because you had to have unanimous agreement of all states so yes indeed the president supposed to be in charge and foreign policy and the next clause is up with so fighting over even this very recently is why they put this in the president's have the power to fill up all vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate this is a wonderful clause it was obviously very important in an age when Senate recesses took a long time and transportation was slow and it was hard to actually get back to Washington to approve nominees but as you say just recently the Supreme Court decided that although the president can appoint recess appointments when Congress is out of session for more than ten days he can't do it when during the time when Congress just gavels itself in and out of session for less than three days there the Supreme Court said Congress is the judge of when it's in session and when it's not it was a wonderful temporary slap to President Obama because he lost a few recess appointments but it broadly vindicated the power exercised thousands of times over the past 100 years to make these recess appointments it just shows how there's still that little tug of war based on these clauses of what's the power of the Congress what's the cow power the president isn't it healthy and the fact that you can make good arguments on both sides and that the court weighs in ensures that power doesn't become too centralized and when we come back we'll do article 3 Thank You Jeffrey pleasure