It’s been a while since class has been in session but its time to get back to work.  Today’s lesson focuses on Article II, sections 2 and 3.  Collectively these inform the citizens about the powers and responsibilities of the President of the United States.

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;

The very first power is where we see the President being the commander in chief of all military forces in the United States, including the state militias, which is now called the National Guard.  The power over the military is divided to protect the people and the government.  While congress has the power to declare war, regulate the military and provide funds for its running, they have no say over the command of the military.  So when the Democrats tried to lay out a time table for the removal of troops from Iraq they overstepped their Constitutional authority.

The President was given the power to command the military because military decision are best left in one person’s hand.  You can’t have Congress debating over military strategy because it would take to long.  That is why they could do nothing about the Surge.  They only thing Congress could do was cut off funding, which was within their authority.

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,

 As of right now we have 15 Executive Departments, the most recent being Homeland Security.  These are created by law in Congress.  These principle officers, or secretaries, are to provide the president with advice on how to enforce the laws passed by the United States Congress.  They also oversee their departments and assist with the enforcement of federal law.  They are sometimes called the Cabinet, but that informal term include others as well besides the heads of the executive departments.

and he shall have Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

These are the president’s clemency powers.  A pardon is legal forgiveness of a crime.  A reprieves is the postponement or lessening of a prison sentence.  This power is given to the president only over convictions of federal law, not state.  Impeachments cannot be pardoned because they are distinctly the power of Congress.  Also they only remove a person from office or prevent them from holding other federal offices.  The president could pardon a impeached official if they were officially charged and convicted of the federal crime that got them impeached.

A lot of talk in public policy over the last 5-6 years has been about comprehensive immigration reform.  One idea that has been thrown around by groups is that the Congress would grant amnesty to immigrants or aliens living in the United States against federal law.  The fact of the matter is though that the President does not need to wait on Congress to grant amnesty (A blanket pardon to a group of people) to illegal immigrants.  He has the power vested in him by the Constitution.  I think he just fears the backlash of such an action.

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; 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.

The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.

Their are several things going on in this clauses that I want to address, but they all have to do with the special connection made between the President and the Senate inside the Constitution.  Treaties require the advice and consent of the Senate because it is the job of the Senate to protect the rights of the states and their citizens.  The 2/3 majority is required because treaties affect the entire nation and our relationship to the world.  It would be wrong for treaties to be approved by a simple majority since they can have such far reaching effects on the country, states, and citizens.

The Senate is also required to approve of almost all Presidential appointments, unless the law which creates them says they may be appointed by someone else.  This clause is to protect the citizens from the President appoint his friends into power.  People may be worried that a person may buy an office with campaign contributions; this is designed to give a check on those types of appointments.  A key thing that people miss in this clause though is that these appointed positions MUST be created by law.  All of these czars and special advisers that Presidents have appointed that do not require Senate approval are unconstitutional positions.

The last phrase gives the power to make appointments to offices requiring Senate approval when they are out of session.  This was to make sure that the government can still fully function when Congress is not in session.  But their is a check on this power, they will only serve until the end of the next session of Congress.  It limits the power of the President in this regards.

Recently, both Presidents Obama and Bush have used this power to appoint a person who was not politically popular.  Bush did it with John Bolton as our ambassador to the UN and Obama did it with an appointment to a new health insurance bureaucracy under the law passed this year.  Both did this to avoid open debate and discussion on the person.  Obama’s man did not even have a hearing prior to the session ending and the appointment being made when the Senate was out of session. 

He 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 shall judge necessary and expedient;

The President must communicate with Congress.  It is required in Article II of the Constitution.  For most of the history of the United States this communication was an annual letter or message to Congress.  There is no provision for it to be aired on television, just that it be presented to Congress.  Could be dangerous if this was done in private.

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;

This clause shows that the President has limited powers over Congress.  The chief among them being the power to call them into an emergency session.  This is not as important today as it was a hundred years ago.  Congress meets almost in continuous session over the two years they are elected.  The Senate is sometimes called back to approve of a presidential appointment, but rarely are both houses called back.

The second power is the power to adjourn Congress.  The only time he may adjourn the Congress is when their is a disagreement between the two houses for how long they will adjourn.  The are required to have the permission of the other house if they are to adjourn for more than three days.

he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers

The President is the chief diplomat of the United States, and represents us to the world.  This power is connected to his power to make treaties.  This powers was given to the President because some conversations between different head of state are confidential and require secrecy, which is easier with a singular executive.  Also it makes negotiations easier for treaties if all 100 members of the Senate are not until ratification of such treaties.

he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed,

To execute the laws means to enforce them.  This is a reiteration of the very first line of Article II, which vests all executive power in the President.  When a president refuses to enforce the properly approved legislation of the U.S. Congress he is in violation of not only this clause of the Constitution, but also his oath of office.  Whether the President likes the law, supreme court decision or treaty, it is his job to enforce it equally among all citizens. 

and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States.

This power is connected with the his power as commander in chief of the military.  Most major military officers do require Senate confirmation, like when General Petraus was appointed commander in Afghanistan following General McCrysal’s resignation.  Though I am not sure from where they get that authority.

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

This last section of Article II, outlines that all civil officers can be removed from office if they have been impeached by the Congress.  They only real crimes defined as impeachable by the Constitution are Treason and bribery.  I wonder if taking money, trips, and other items from lobbyist, special interest groups and political action committees can be seen as bribery?

That is all I have for you today class.  Next week we will start to look at Article III of the U.S. Constitution that deals with the Judicial Branch.  Any questions, comments, concerns?  Class dismissed.