Tag Archives: President

Understanding the Constitution of the United States: Article II the Executive Branch

Image of the U.S. Constitution from http://wvconstitutionaladvocates.com/u-s-constitution/

Image of the U.S. Constitution from http://wvconstitutionaladvocates.com/u-s-constitution/

The second article of the Constitution of the United States is significantly shorter than the first article and processes of election and succession (in section 1) were modified by the twelfth and twenty-fifth amendments. The structure of the constitution does not allow for unchecked power by any of the branches of government. The executive branch is limited by the laws passed and their interpretation by the judicial branch. We are seeing this play out in the opening days of the Trump administration where executive orders cannot override existing laws and a federal judge can execute a stay or prevent enforcement of an executive order that contradicts other laws and the legislative branch has the authority to pass a law which would supersede an executive order. The Constitution can be viewed here among several other places. What follows is an explanation of this fairly short article.

Section 1: Vesting, Election and Succession

The Vesting Clause:

This first clause of the article has been viewed differently by different presidents about the amount of Executive Power that has been vested in the President of the United States. Certain privileges are reserved by the Legislature or the Supreme Court in Articles I or III, but ultimately the Executive Branch is charged with the execution and enforcement of the laws that are passed by the Legislative Branch. Each of the branches of government are vested with specified powers as a part of the constitution’s balance of power. The specified powers of the President of the United States are listed in Section 2 below. There is no reading of the U.S. Constitution that could support the statements made by Stephen Miller, an advisor to President Trump, who stated that “the powers of the president…are very substantial and will not be questioned.”

The remainder of Section 1 concerns the practical matters like:

– the process of election of a president (which was modified by the Twelfth Amendment after the 1800 election of Thomas Jefferson where he and his running mate received the same number of votes. The Twelfth Amendment establishes our current system of Electoral College election)

– the qualifications required to be a President: natural born citizen (since no one alive today was alive at the time of the adoption of the constitution, which is how the first Presidents were eligible), at least 35 years old and having lived as a resident of the United States for at least fourteen years.

-What to do in the case of the removal, death, resignation or inability of a president to fulfill their duties (modified by the Twenty Fifth Amendment to increase the specificity on how this process would unfold)

-Compensation for the President, currently $400,000 per year, and while the President serves they are not able to receive any other payment from either a state or the federal government.

-Finally the oath of office is outlined: “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.

Section 2: Powers of the President of the United States

The President is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and has the power to employ the U.S. Military (Active, Reserve and when called into federal service the National Guard which when not federalized is controlled by the state governors). The President does not have the power to declare war, that is specifically reserved to the Legislative Branch (Article 1, Section 8) and the Legislative branch is the only branch that can authorize the funds for military action outside the budget but the President is charged with the execution of any use of the military.

May require (the Opinion) of any of the members of an Executive department. The cabinet, which oversees the various executive department, as well as organizations like the CIA, FBI, ATF, Secret Service, EPA, and many others ultimately report to the President.

May grant reprieves and pardons for federal offenses except in the case of impeachment. With the resignation of Michael Flynn, where he may still face prosecution the President could pardon (although that would raise a number of questions.) President Ford famously pardoned Richard Nixon on September 8, 1974 which he was able to do since Nixon resigned prior to impeachment proceedings.

Power to make treaties, with the advice and consent of the senate. The senate must ratify any treaties but the president and the executive branch negotiate the treaties.

Shall nominate, with advice and consent of the senate, ambassadors, public ministers and consuls, judges of the supreme court and all other officers of the United States. When President Obama nominated Merrick Garland to the supreme court the legislative branch exercised a very strong (and controversial) reading of the advice and consent clause in refusing to hear the nomination in an election year. There are a number of federal judgeships that do go unfilled because the nominees do not clear the senate.

President may fill all vacancies that happen during the recess of the senate by granting commissions that shall expire at the end of the next session.

Section 3: State of the Union and the Power of Recommendation

The first clause of this section is the origin of the annual State of the Union addresses that the President makes to Congress, and by extension to the American people.

The President does not make laws but does recommend to congress measures the president judges necessary, this is why the budget process often begins with the recommendations of the executive branch.

The President may convene both houses or either house in extraordinary occasions (like a declaration of war or the need for emergency legislation) and may, in a case where the congress cannot decide when to adjourn, adjourn the congress (a power no President has ever used).

As the person responsible for negotiating with foreign governments, the President will receive ambassadors and other public ministers.

He shall take care that the laws are faithfully executed. Ultimately this is the heart of the function of the executive branch.

Finally, the President shall commission all officers of the United States.

Section 4: Impeachment

President, Vice President and all civil officers of the U.S. shall be removed from office on impeachment for: Treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. The process of impeachment is laid out in Article I, Section 3.

I Pray That I Am Wrong…

As a person who dearly loves this country and the dream of what it can be I dearly hope that I am wrong….

After an election that has caused long lasting trauma for people on the left, right and in the middle and where fear and anxiety were the dominant emotions we the people elected Donald Trump. I dearly hope that those who voted for Donald are right and I am wrong, that he is somehow better than what he appears to be: a better leader, a better learner, and a better human being. I pray that somehow he can learn that as the President of the United States he is no longer a reality TV star or a business man who maximizes his own personal profit at the cost of many others. I pray that he will neither destroy the credit of the American people with rash economic decisions or with our moral standing in the world. My fear is that he is not the type of man who will put the needs of the people before his own needs but I dearly hope that I am wrong.

As a veteran who gladly committed my service to this country when I was younger and who still has a strong attachment to not only my former regiment but to those who serve in any of the armed services and our allies across the globe, I dearly hope that President Trump will take the time to learn the intricacies of diplomacy and the importance of the promises our country has made in the past. Whether it is the Breton Woods accords which guaranteed commerce across the oceans protected by U.S. naval power or the alliances like NATO which continue to serve a vital role in preserving and protecting and providing a space in which freedom and democracy have a chance. I pray that he can understand the importance of things like the Geneva convention not only for our standing in the world but for the safety of our own soldiers when they are called into action. I hope that he understands that just because the executive branch of the United States government can call upon the complete set of weapons in the U.S. arsenal that force is only used as a last resort and that there are consequences for the type of warfare he so casually talked about in his campaign. I pray that his own seemingly fragile ego does not continually place those who are willing to serve in conflict because of a perceived insult to his person. Perhaps President Trump will be able to enhance America’s standing on the world stage, and for those who elected him to make America great again I pray that you are right and my fears this day are wrong.

As a Lutheran pastor who cares deeply for not only those who are members of my congregation but those well beyond the walls of any Christian community who are my neighbors, I hope that the language of scapegoating that was so rampant in the Trump campaign for president ends and there is no additional harm done. As a white straight male who has not spoken up enough on behalf of my friends and neighbors of color, of different or no religion, who are LBTGQ or are people with disabilities, I apologize. I refuse to see a future that reflects my denomination’s past in 1930s Germany. I will stand with you, perhaps falteringly at first as I learn how to use my voice, but I will not see a future where they came for my Muslim neighbor, but I was not Muslim and I did nothing, then they came for my Latino/Latina brothers and sisters and I did nothing. Granted as a white straight male I probably could coast through with little fear that my own personal status would be impacted, but that is not the America I believe in. I do believe it is self-evident that all men (and women) are created equal as our founding fathers could so boldly state in the Declaration of Independence.

To those who are celebrating this day, please know that almost half of your fellow Americans are mourning. Your version of the American dream and theirs may be somewhat different but I fear that you have elected someone who will not allow either sets of visions for the American dream to prosper. I pray that I am wrong…

But if I am not wrong and Donald Trump is not able to be an effective leader, to learn the role of President and assume the responsibilities that are a part of the office and that he can become a decent human being for the four years of his term then:

I hope that you can pay a fraction of the attention to the electronic communication of the new president that you have paid to Hillary Clinton’s during the past twelve years. Hillary Clinton was far from a perfect candidate but the news story of her emails was probably the key piece in the strategy to win this election but now the bar is set. Does the communication coming out of the office of President befit the office, is it causing harm to America’s security, is it antagonizing movements around the world that put our diplomats and military in dangerous situations? If President Trump’s previous actions on twitter are any indication I fear greatly for the security of our country. Again, I pray that I am wrong.

I hope that you can pay a fraction of the attention that you have paid to Bill Clinton in his affair with Monica Lewinsky to President Trump’s words and actions while in the presidency. Particularly for those of you who elected Trump when you have opposed other presidents on moral grounds I hope that you will apply the same standards for him. We have elected a person to the highest office in the land who, if he was a professional athlete, probably would not be able to play on any professional sports team. I hope you understand the message you sent to our daughters about the type of language that we are willing to tolerate when someone speaks about their bodies. Maybe Trump will be able to learn how to be a person who has the highest respect for women. I have my severe doubts but again I pray that I am wrong.

I fear for the damage that will be done to the U.S. and global economy and not just for my own self-serving reasons. Yes, I fear that the anxiety in the market will hurt my retirement account and could damage the long work of debt reduction I have undertaken in my personal life but my fears are greater for my children’s generation. I fear that people like my son who is autistic will not be able to find coverage for his healthcare needs since Trump and a Republican congress will likely overturn the Affordable Care Act and return us to the free market system of insurance without protections for those who are unable to get insurance. I worry that the trend of Republican presidents to decrease taxes, increase both military spending and the overall budget while reducing revenues will continue to add to the deficit that myself and my children will continue to have to pay back. I worry that the turning away from the advances made in alternative energy sources and an increased reliance on coal and oil will continue to have a negative impact on the world my children will inherit. I pray that I am wrong on this.

This day, like every day before, I will get up and go to work. I will pay my bills, my taxes and make sure my family has food on the table. I will pray for my country and those who have been elected to serve it. Yet, on this day I need to voice my own fears about the man we have elected to be our president. I pray that my fears do not come to pass. Yet, I have not given up working for this country to be the country that I love where all men and women are created equal, where we are a nation that other nations look to as an example of freedom and justice, to be a place where everyone has an opportunity for the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.