Mr. Valenzuela

Civics – Executive Branch


Today in class, students investigated and explained the role of the Executive Branch in our government. To see what we worked on today, click on the links below:

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adobe-pdf-logo Page 21 Class Notes

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Homework - p. 20 - Executive Branch Facebook chat - Write 20 messages where you and a friend discuss with each other about the information you learned in class today about the Executive Branch!

The Executive Branch!

The President is the head of the executive branch. Carrying out laws is only part of the job. The President’s most important duty is to set goals for the nation and develop policies. Policies are ways of reaching goals. The President must make final decisions on many important issues.

Creating the Office of President

The Constitution sets limits on the office of President. One limit on the President’s power is the term of office. The President is elected for a term of four years. No President may hold office for more than two terms.

The separation of powers also limits the President’s power. The President only carries out laws. Congress makes laws. The Supreme Court decides if a law agrees with the Constitution.

Another limit is the system of checks and balances. Congress must approve many of the President’s decisions. It can remove the President from office in cases of serious wrongdoing. The Supreme Court can decide if actions taken by the President agree with the Constitution.

To be President, a person must be at least 35 years old and a natural-born citizen of the United States. He or she must have lived in the United States for at least 14 years. The president’s salary is set by Congress, and is currently $400,000 per year.

A Leader with Many Roles

The President serves as chief executive. This means he or she is head of the executive branch. The President executes the laws, or makes sure they are carried out.

The President is commander in chief. That means the President leads the armed forces. The President makes the most important decisions when the nation is at war. The President may send troops to another country—even if Congress has not declared war. The War Powers Resolution says that the troops cannot stay more than 60 days. Congress must approve longer stays.

The President is our chief diplomat. The President takes the lead in making foreign policy. But the Senate must approve treaties the President makes with other countries. It also must approve ambassadors the President chooses. The President is free to make executive agreements.

Each year, the President gives the State of the Union speech to Congress. This speech includes ideas about foreign policy and domestic policy. The President gets Congress to turn policy into laws in various ways. For example, the President calls and meets with members of Congress to convince them to support programs.

The President has some judicial powers. The President chooses justices for the Supreme Court and judges for other federal courts. The President can also reduce the punishment of someone convicted of a federal crime. The President can even give pardons. A pardon is a release from punishment.

Roles Created by Tradition

The Constitution does not mention two other roles. They are party leader and chief of state. As party leader, the President supports his political party’s goals and candidates. As chief of state, the President speaks for the whole nation.

Today the executive branch is the government’s largest branch. It has become a bureaucracy. The President has an administration to help direct the bureaucracy.

Members of the administration lead the three main parts of the executive branch. These are the Executive Office of the President, the executive departments, and the independent agencies.

The Executive Office of the President

The President chooses most of the people in the Executive Office of the President (EOP). Their main job is to advise the President.

The EOP includes the White House staff. It also includes the Vice President. It also includes special groups that help the President to make decisions about issues at home and abroad. The President’s most trusted advisers and assistants make up the White House staff. The President chooses these people. They do not need Senate approval. The President decides what the Vice President does. The Vice President may play an active role. He or she may become President if the President dies. The Vice President may also serve as “acting President.” That happens if the President becomes seriously ill.

The Executive Departments

The executive departments form the largest part of the executive branch. They help to carry out laws and to run government programs. Each department helps do one or more of the President’s jobs. The Department of Defense helps the President as commander in chief. The Department of Homeland Security helps keep us safe from terrorism.

Each executive department has a leader, or head. The President chooses these heads. The Senate must approve each choice. Most department heads are called secretaries. The department heads are the main members of the Cabinet.

The Independent Agencies

Independent agencies do other jobs in the executive branch. There are three types.

• Executive Agencies. The President controls these. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is one example. The Environmental

Protection Agency (EPA) is another.

• Regulatory Commissions. Congress has formed 12 of these. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is an example. It sets safety rules for house-

hold products.

• Government Corporations. These agencies are like private businesses. They try to make a profit. Our postal service is an example. Most provide public services. The services may be too risky or costly for a private business to take on.

The Civil Service System

The civil service system helps to create trained government workers. These workers are called civil servants. They must pass tests to get their jobs.

The President’s actions affect our nation. They also affect nations all over the world.

Freedom to Take Action

The President has a lot of freedom. The President can hold talks with officials from other nations, for example. Some talks lead to executive agreements. The Senate does not have to approve these. Other talks lead to treaties. The Senate can reject any treaty. But it is hard for the Senate to say no after the President agrees to a treaty. Executive privilege protects the President’s freedom to act.

Seeking a Balance

Why should the President be free to act without the other branches of government? The President must be able to act quickly in a crisis. The President also may need to take an opportunity that might be lost while waiting for approval. The need for strong leadership must be balanced against the need for protection against abuse of power.

Presidential Power

The actions of three Presidents show how leaders have used their power.

• President Jefferson had a chance in 1803 to buy land from France. This Louisiana Territory would double the size of the United States. But the Constitution did not say the President could buy land. Jefferson knew he had to act quickly. Secretary of State Madison believed that the President’s power to make treaties gave Jefferson the right to buy the land. Jefferson decided to buy it. The Senate approved the treaty with France. Congress then paid France for the land.

President Truman faced a problem in 1952. Steel was needed to make weapons for the Korean War. Steelworkers would not work unless their demands were met. The companies would not meet the demands. The President gave an executive order. It gave control of the mills to the government for a time. The companies said the President could not take control of private property. Truman said he was acting as commander in chief to protect our troops. The Supreme Court ruled the President could not use executive orders to make his own laws.

President Nixon left office in 1974. He left because of the Watergate scandal. He and his staff were accused of covering up a break-in. Burglars were caught in the Democratic National Committee headquarters. They had broken in to get information about the Democrats’ campaign plans. The information would help to re-elect Nixon. A special committee investigated. They asked for tapes the President had made of his conversations. Nixon refused. He claimed executive privilege. The Supreme Court ruled that he must turn over the tapes. It said that executive privilege is not unlimited. It cannot be used to hide criminal acts.

These three examples show that the President does not govern alone. The three branches of government share power. The system of checks and balances helps to make sure the government acts in the best interests of the people.

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