Some people love to say that it doesn’t matter who is elected president. Such thinking could be farthest from the truth when you understand that ultimately the power rests with the people. That’s why it’s so important that you voice your choice with your vote.
Fortunately, the U.S. Constitution limits power by imposing checks and balances on the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government to achieve the distribution of power across the government and prevent any one branch from going rogue.
To best understand, note that the power of the purse strings does not comes under the president, but is given to members of Congress, who approve the U.S. budget..
But let’s keep it real. Despite the checks and balances of three branches of government, it matters a great deal who gets elected president.
There are a sufficient number of presidential powers that are not checked by Congress. During his two terms, President Obama has expanded use of such executive powers, furthering a thirty-year trend of growing influence by U.S. presidents.
Using his executive power, the Obama administration has made the decision to not defend the Defense of Marriage Act preventing same-sex marriage. Enforcing laws passed by Congress is supposed to be one of the president’s duties, though Obama’s White House argued DOMA was unconstitutional in the first place.
The basic integrity of he or she who holds the office of U.S. president comes into question because there are three other things a president can do without approval of the Congress.
Presidents Can Start a (De Facto) War Without Congress’ Approval
There’s a fine line drawn here. Technically, the president can’t declare war independently of Congress’ approval. However, because he is commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces, every officer in every branch of the military ultimately reports to the president. They must act on his command.
Consequently, the Korean and Vietnam wars were established at the presidents’ command to put U.S. troops into battle without official war declarations. The War Powers Act added provisions requiring the president to report to Congress after deploying forces autonomously.
The constitution gives Congress the power to declare war, but presidents have, in fact, commanded the American military to partake in many hostile actions all over the world without getting Congress’ approval
Presidents Can Unilaterally Change Trade Agreements
Trade is another area in which the president can act nearly unilaterally.
It’s technically Congress’ job to regulate commerce with foreign nations; however, those powers have increasingly come under executive purview.
History documents numerous examples of American trade legislation where Congress delegated authority to the president to negotiate with foreign countries. Indeed, presidents often shape trade policies without congressional approval. Most likely, this makes for a faster negotiation process since the president is often the one sitting opposite other world leaders.
Trade deals do require approval. Yet, a president is free to modify and even undo existing trade deals at will — a distinction that some economists worry would make it easy for Trump to make good on his promises to scrap trade agreements.
Obama, for example, has signed executive orders waiving trade restrictions for Belarus and restricting transactions with North Korea. And Obama has also begun normalizing relations with Cuba almost unilaterally.
Trump has said “We’re going to stand up to China,” and has suggested introducing high tariffs on imported Chinese goods. That could start a trade war if China were to take retaliatory action — like hiking tariffs on U.S. products.
Presidents Appoint Judges and the People Who Run the Economy
The death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February left an empty seat on theSupreme Court, which the Republicans chose to stop Obama’s right to appoint under his tenure. This means the next president will be tasked with finding his replacement.
Presidents tend to select justices who are ideologically aligned with them, and the choice of replacement could have ramifications for major issues in the U.S., including same-sex marriage and healthcare.
But — unlike with Supreme Court nominees — it’s rare for a presidential Cabinet nominee to be rejected. And while Cabinet members can influence policy, ultimately they must follow directives from the president.
There’s more. Hundreds of appointed positions that do not require Senate confirmation are done at the president’s discretion.
That’s a lot to consider ahead of the election Nov. 8.