The presidency and the executive branch
in US politics today (fourth edition)
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The chapter surveys the powers assigned to the president by the Constitution and those de facto powers that have emerged over time. It argues that the president has, in particular, secured foreign and defence policy powers. This is in part because Congress is institutionally ill-fitted to take quick or proactive decisions. Although there were efforts to rein in the presidency in the wake of the Vietnam War and presidents have sought to secure Congressional backing for military action overseas, the White House still has substantial scope for unilateral action. Presidents are more constrained, however, if domestic policy issues are considered. Partisan polarisation has limited their capacity to construct coalitions in Congress and they have often had to fall back upon executive actions (most notably executive orders) which only offer some opportunities for reform and change. The chapter concludes by considering different presidencies and ways in which historical circumstances create regimes that have either constrained or empowered individual office-holders.

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