Saturday, 23 June 2007

The all-powerful executive

Tony Snow, the White House press secretary, said recently that Congress has no oversight authority over the executive. Has he ever even read the US Constitution? Has he ever heard of checks and balances, as described in the constitution? Many in the Bush administration have taken the unitary executive theory to the extreme.

Signing statements have also been used in excess by the president so he can get around the law, without having to use his veto power.

Here's what the president can do:

The president:

* is the Commander in Chief of the armed forces. He or she has the power to call into service the state units of the National Guard, and in times of emergency may be given the power by Congress to manage national security or the economy.
* has the power make treaties with Senate approval. He or she can also receive ambassadors and work with leaders of other nations.
* is responsible for nominating the heads of governmental departments, which the Senate must then approve. In addition, the president nominates judges to federal courts and justices to the United States Supreme Court.
* can issue executive orders, which have the force of law but do not have to be approved by congress.
* can issue pardons for federal offenses.
* can convene Congress for special sessions.
* can veto legislation approved by Congress. However, the veto is limited. It is not a line-item veto, meaning that he or she cannot veto only specific parts of legislation, and it can be overridden by a two-thirds vote by Congress.
* delivers a State of the Union address annually to a joint session of Congress.

The president cannot break American law (wiretapping, FBI Patriot Act use, etc.), international law (Geneva Conventions cum Gitmo, CIA prisons, etc.), sidestep congress whenever he pleases, lie under oath (which I do not think Bush has yet done — ?), or commit any number of obvious and stealthy offenses of the constitution and current law. Clinton lied under oath (i.e. Lewinski); Nixon broke countless laws (e.g. Watergate); Reagan broke plenty national and foreign laws and regulations too (e.g. Iran contra). Bush has done basically all of those except the oath-breaking.

Side-note: while browsing the constitution, I found some interesting sections. I guess most people have forgotten about this one — Article II, Section 4 of the US Constitution:
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.

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