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In order to understand more completely the job of the presidency and the nature of presidential leadership in the United States, one must also understand the president’s relationship with Congress. This can be done by examining challenges that presidents face and the actions they take to address them. There are five challenges this paper will focus on: the “disappearing center” and polarization, the president’s use of unilateral executive powers and signing statements, shared constitutional powers, who is a better representative of the people, and the different “patterns of inter-branch control” between the two branches. Within these five challenges will be why they are important, and recommendations that presidents can use to overcome them. The first challenge president’s face is in regard to “the disappearing center” and the polarization between the two political parties that most often determines how successful their relationship will be with Congress. In order for the political process to work, accommodation and cooperation between the parties is a must in order to bring about change at the federal level of government.
The American public wish for cross-party public policymaking in general and this is why the center is deemed to be extremely important. Without a political center there is sure to be greater partisanship and ideological polarization between those elected to Congress and the Office of the President. The outcome from this can lead to increased distrust by the public and aversion to the political process and politicians. Sarah Binder states, “The movement away from the center has been accompanied by a coarsening of politics and bitter partisanship—leaving voters increasingly disenchanted with Washington politics” (p. 281). It has becomes harder for president’s to move their desired legislation through Congress as the two parties move farther apart. Presidents can successfully address the polarization that is happening between the two parties. In order to do this presidents should choose to engage members of Congress in political trade-off in order to get parts of their agenda passed. Brandon Rottinghaus suggests, “Presidents are able to use their executive policy expertise to influence committee stages for issues that are technical or relatively noncontroversial” (p. 85). They can also adjust their policies in order to accommodate the concerns coming from the opposing party in order to pass legislation.
Of course, this is easier when the president’s party holds a majority in either chamber of Congress. Presidents can gain loyalty and support from leaders in both chamber in order to help legislation move through Congress. If this is to happen presidents must meet with these leaders on a regular basis. The outcome from this form of contact can give them knowledge of Congress’s mood, as well as information on where to look when pursuing votes. A second challenge president’s face are situations involving their use of unilateral executive powers and signing statements when working with Congress. A presidents unilateral powers come from the Unitary Executive Theory. This theory suggests that the president is exclusively accountable for maintaining and controlling what goes on within the executive branch of government. Presidents use this theory to justify signing statements that are made when they sign a bill into law. Richard W. Waterman suggests, “It raises serious legal questions about the boundaries of presidential power and Congress’s ability to limit presidential discretion” (p. 249). This is done to show Congress that they do not possess the right to pass laws that limit the president’s powers as commander in chief or chief executive. Unilateral executive powers should be used carefully by presidents in order to maintain a working relationship with Congress. Signing statements are a way for presidents to get around vetoing legislation that is passed by Congress. Presidents should only use these types of power when there is a previous agreement between the executive and legislative branches of government.
Rottinghaus comments that, “Presidents often only use these actions when the action is not to be overturned in Congress,” and “Congress provides the president the statutory authority to operate within a specific boundary” (p. 94). Keeping the lines of communication open between members of Congress and presidents are important in order to get legislation passed and signed into law. Signing statements are a way of doing this and can be revised or done away with when a new administration is elected to the executive branch. Another challenge facing presidents when it comes to their relationship with Congress are obstacles they face when it comes to dealing with their shared constitutional powers. “In perhaps no other venue is the interconnectedness of the Constitution on display than in matters involving joint executive-legislative policy making” (Rottinghaus, p. 81). Entrusted in Articles I and II of the United States Constitution are the shared powers that sit at the center of presidential relationships with Congress. This shared power enables them to make and implement policies. While legislative powers are shared between the two branches of government, one branch may exercise more power than the other branch during certain periods of governing. Rottinghaus compares this relationship to being like a “rubber band. ” He states, “In reality, the executive-legislative relationship is more like a rubber band, where it retains a fundamental shape but can be stretched to change as legislative and executive tools change and political events occur” (Rottinghaus, p. 96). This type of relationship is important if presidents and Congress are to get anything done. This challenge can be overcome as long as presidents keep an open line of communication between themselves and Congress. Presidents can achieve this through regular meetings with leaders in both chambers of Congress. It also helps if the priorities of the executive branch are the same as those of the legislative branch. If they are not, presidents should find ways to compromise with Congress. When trying to forge relationships with members of Congress, presidents should remember to look at what drives these leaders and their personality types. If their personalities clash they may wish to have their staffs interact and bring information back to them.
Other factors that affect presidents relationship with Congress is whether or not their party holds a majority in one or both chambers and the size of that majority. In order to enhance the executive-legislative relationship, presidents need to develop their political agendas carefully and be willing to compromise to get some of what they want. A fourth challenge presidents may face in their relationship with Congress is in which one better represents the people. Some scholar’s feel that the president represents the American public better as he is elected to office by the nation as a whole. Marc J. Hetherington states, “Presidents face a different set of political imperatives that make them significantly more representative of the public as a whole than members of Congress” (p. 91). Whereas, other scholar’s argue that Congress represents the people as it is made-up of individuals elected by the voting public from each of the fifties states in which they represent. Congress is made up of 535 individuals who must go back to their home states to face their constituents. What it comes down to is who, presidents or Congress, drives policies through the legislative process that better represents the views of the people. In order for presidents to overcome who represents the populous better, they must realize that the American public is not one voice, but 300 million voices. Just like Congress, the president can listen to all Americans and address them through news and television media or through holding town hall type gatherings. When holding this type of get-together, presidents need to let the public voice their concerns. At the same time presidents need to really listen to what is being said and shape policies using this new knowledge. While running for election or re-election presidential candidates must modify their policies and messages to appeal to all the voters in all states, not just those in their own party. Hetherington asserts that, “Most Americans, when considering the nation as a whole are moderate and nonideological.
A president who fails to account for this factor runs the risk of alienating a large chunk of the public” (p. 93). The final challenge that presidents face in their relationship with Congress, is the different “patterns of inner-branch control” between the two. Partisan control is the strongest factor affecting inner-branch relationships. This can be seen in three types of situations. Party government, divided government and truncated government. Party government is when one party has a majority in both chambers of Congress. This type of government is seen more in parliamentary type governments. Having a majority in Congress does not necessarily mean that there will be legislative success in passing policies. “Divided government occurs when the White House and Congress are in the hands of opposing parties,” states Roger H. Davidson (p. 270). Divided government requires leadership that uses clever inner-branch negotiating in order to overcome policy deadlocks. While truncated government is where one but not both chambers of Congress are controlled by the party of the president. When faced with these types of situations presidents must try to overcome them so that they can work with Congress to get legislations out of committee and passed through both chambers and signed into law. It can be hard to sort out the impacts of different influences and other factors must also be taken into consideration. Presidents can work on their relationship with individual legislators. When doing this they should learn what the legislators concerns are and at the same time be sensitive to them. This is a great opportunity for presidents to demonstrate their skills and abilities, while at the same time havie an impact on government and policy. Davidson exclaims, “The legislative-executive balance of power is in constant flux. The influence of either branch can be affected by issues, circumstances, or personalities” (p. 274).
Therefore, presidents must take into account not only their own parties unity, but also that of the opposing party. Based on the discussion throughout this paper, there are three important insights about the job of the president and presidential leadership in the United States that I have gained from this assignment. The first is that presidents must maintain a good relationship between the executive and legislative branches of the federal government in order to pass legislation. This is important, because if there are no open lines of communication between the two branches then bills may stall or die in committee and never make it to the floor to be voted on. Another one is that presidents must be careful when exercising their use of unilateral executive powers and signing statements. The reason this is important for the presidential- congressional relationship is so that Congress does not feel it is being bypassed or ignored when it comes to the legislation they pass. If Congress feels that presidents are ignoring or changing the policies they pass, then the relationship between the two may break down causing further polarization. Lastly, presidents and Congress should work together to find middle ground in order to reduce the “disappearing center”. This insight is important in order to stop the polarization that is occurring between the executive-legislative branches of government. This would most likely change the direction the polarization is going if more moderate politicians from both parties could get elected.
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