The Executive Branch: More Than the Presidency

The Executive Branch: More Than the Presidency

( – The US government is built on the principle of separation of powers, with authority split between the executive, legislative and judicial branches. The executive branch can’t pass or interpret laws — Congress and the Supreme Court are responsible for that — but it does have the authority to enforce them. It also has some ability to issue orders and regulations that have the force of law, within limits.

The power of the Executive Branch is held by the President of the United States; enforcing the law is his responsibility. The vice president, cabinet and heads of the federal agencies are also part of the branch, and the president delegates much of the responsibility to them. In total, more than four million people work for the Executive Branch, including the members of the US Armed Forces.

Enforcing The Law

The branch’s main role is to enforce the laws created by Congress, as interpreted by the Supreme Court. It has a range of powers to do this:

  • The president appoints the senior officers of the federal agencies. These appointments must be confirmed by the Senate, but the president nominates the candidates the Senate votes on. This gives the president huge influence on how the agencies operate.
  • Congress may pass bills, but the president must sign them into law before they take effect — and he doesn’t have to do that. Instead, he can choose to send them back for amendments, or even veto them. Congress may override a veto, but only with two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate.
  • The president may issue an executive order. This isn’t a law, but it has the force of one. Executive orders can direct federal agencies on how to do their jobs, act as new laws, or state how an existing law is to be enforced.

National Security

  • The president sets the foreign policy of the US. He’s the head of state as well as the head of the government and represents the US abroad.
  • Only the executive branch can sign treaties with other countries. These must be approved by the Senate, but negotiating them is the executive’s job.
  • As commander-in-chief, the president deploys the US Armed Forces and sends them into combat, although to formally declare war the president must appear before Congress.

The Senate

  • The vice president is also part of the executive branch, and while the VP’s main job is to be ready to take over if the president can no longer do the job, the Constitution also gives the position some responsibilities. The main one is to act as President of the Senate. If a vote in the Senate is tied, the vice president casts the tie-breaking vote.

The executive branch’s powers are strictly limited by the Constitution, as are the powers of the other two branches, but the president and those under his jurisdiction still hold a lot of authority. Unlike Congress and the Supreme Court, the Executive Branch can exercise it quickly. The president can execute an executive order much faster than Congress can pass a bill and pass it on to the president to sign. As long as they stay within the Constitution’s bounds, the powers of the executive branch give the US the ability to respond flexibly; they just have to be closely monitored against abuses.

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