Donald Trump has been no stranger to flexing the muscles of the executive branch in his four years of presidency. He has personally withheld congressionally authorized funding from Ukraine over issues regarding President-elect Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden; ordered a military strike that killed Iranian Official Qasem Soleimani and passed over 200 executive orders in his four year tenure. These facts beg the obvious question of “Is the Executive Branch too powerful?” And, while Trump has certainly made ample use of his privileges, the Executive Branch does not have an exorbitant amount of them.
The easy argument for checking the president’s power is the checks and balances system, which was put in place for this exact purpose. For example, while the president can make vetoes of congressional legislation, Congress can override these vetoes with a two-thirds majority vote. For example, this year’s bill outlining the budget for the Department of Defense was vetoed by Trump for not including Section 230 of the communications code, which Congress overrode. Although Congress is never usually on the same page, the ability exists for them to check the President should the need arise.
Furthermore, the President’s power is critical for emergencies, as he can usually act much quicker than Congress could in pressing situations. The best example for this is in 2001, where George W. Bush was critical to implementing the Patriot Act to counter terrorism in the wake of attempted assassinations of politicians using Anthrax and 9/11. The bill, while hotly criticized for infringing on the privacy of Americans, purportedly foiled many would-be terrorist plots, according to FBI Director Robert Mueller, although other sources disagree.
However, in recent days, it has become extraordinarily clear that a president like Trump can take advantage of these powers to satisfy his presidential agenda in ways that could be called corruption. Notably, he abused his position as president to incite a coup attempt to stop the Electoral College ballot counting at the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6. However, this travesty is, in my opinion, not the result of an overpowered executive branch. All the proper channels exist already for the Legislative branch to check the president. It lies squarely on the shoulders of Congress to hold the president accountable for any wrongdoings he has committed, and they have so far failed to collectively move to impeach him. Executive power is not the issue in this situation, it is the gross failure of Congress at multiple points to properly check his wrongdoings. If we want to avoid turmoil in the future, we have to be more careful about the legislators we elect who have the power to impeach him.
As the political climate in the United States is becoming increasingly polarized, it is more important than ever to actively balance powers of the president, which can become excessive if left unchecked.
Regardless of political parties, the U.S. has seen the damage a president can inflict on a country when they abuse their powers. One of the most notable examples of presidential abuse of power is the Watergate Scandal under the Nixon administration, which caused widespread distrust in the government to spread. However, there are many other more recent examples of presidential abuse such as Obama’s involvement in Libya without proper Congressional approval. These recent events undermine the Constitution and the core values of American democracy, thus providing ample evidence for the need of further limitations on the powers of the president.
One such power awarded to the president that has the most potential for abuse is the ability to issue executive orders. Executive orders are directives issued by the president to federal or state agencies and don’t require Congressional approval. The greatest check on executive orders is that they are still subject to judicial review, meaning that they must comply with the constitution but other than that the president has freedom to order nearly whatever he wishes. The original intention was that executive orders should be used sparingly and as a last resort, but over time they have become increasingly commonplace with Franklin D. Roosevelt issuing 3721 orders, the most of any president.
Furthermore as Chief of State, Chief Executive, Commander in Chief, Chief Diplomat, Chief Legislator and Superpolititian the president has too many responsibilities to manage them all effectively. Many presidents have struggled to balance their presidential duties by focusing on one area they oversee and neglecting others such as focusing too much on foreign policy and neglecting domestic affairs. If the powers of the president were more easily managed the office could be more efficient, effective and lower the possibility of neglect or abuse.
Presidential pardons are another presidential power, with little checks, that hold enormous possibility of abuse. Many presidents have used this power for personal gains or interests. When President Ford took office he pardoned his predecessor Nixon, who was being investigated by congress for Watergate, which came under extreme scrutiny by the public. Additionally, President Clinton pardoned his half brother after he faced drug related charges, which was blatant nepotism. These are just two examples of a history of the misuse of presidential pardons, which disgraces the presidential office. Thus, it is clear that the powers of the president may be growing too vast for our nation and must be curtailed to avoid corruption which could surely tarnish the name of our highest office and our nation.