Patricia A. O'Malley

Social Policy & Programs Consulting

Training and Services for agencies working toward social and economic justice

Patricia A. O'Malley
Social Policy & Programs Consulting    ~    Community Matters
P.O. Box 97803    ~    Pittsburgh, PA  15227   ~    412-310-4886    ~
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Established 1993​

No, the President Does Not Have Total Power
Not a chance.
April 27, 2020


At least twice, Donald Trump claimed absolute control of the United States government. 

"When somebody's the president of the United States, the authority is total," he said. 

Actually, no, we have rules about that.

A group of men who had just fought a war to rid themselves of a tyrant king surely wouldn’t create another one. 

If that was true, then we wouldn’t need Congress and the courts, or the rest of the Constitution. 

Nevertheless, his fans fall for it – over and over again. 
The great American media usually disputes his claims, but not quickly or strongly enough.

Article II only contains 1,040 words.  They’re very powerful words, but most Americans, including the current occupant of the Oval Office and much of the media, don’t bother to read them.

Unless otherwise noted, all of the following arise directly from Article II.


1.  Requirements to hold office:

  • Be a natural-born citizen – which does not mean that s/he must be born in the United States.
  • Be at least 35 years old.
  • Have lived in the US for at least fourteen years prior to taking office

2.  Oath of Office

  • Before taking any presidential action, s/he must swear or affirm the Oath of Office:
  • “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
  • “To the best of my ability” leaves a lot of leeway.

3.  Be paid. 

  • The president can donate her/his salary, but must accept it.

4.  Receive ambassadors and other foreign government officials.

5.  Hire, or direct the hiring, of all Executive and Judicial Branch employees with decision-making power.

6.  Sign or veto every bill passed by Congress.1

7.  Serve as the nation’s chief executive and commander in chief of the armed forces. 

  • S/he must execute the laws that Congress enacts. 
  • Many of those laws delegate powers to the president that are not specified in the Constitution. 
  • I can’t possibly list every requirement and restriction included in legislation here.  It would take forever and no one would read it. 
  • If you’re concerned about a specific issue, Google knows all.

8.  Appoint certain Executive and Judicial Branch officials, but the Senate must confirm all appointments.

9.  Occasionally notify Congress of the state of the union and recommend legislation to them. 

  • We know this as the annual State of the Union Address.

10. Nominate a new vice president, to be confirmed by Congress, when that office is vacant.2

11. Relinquish the office of president when determined to be unable to perform its duties, as provided in the 25th Amendment.

1.  Negotiate treaties with other nations, but the Senate must ratify all treaties.

  • According to Article VI, all Senate-ratified treaties are US law, so the president must abide by their terms.

2.  Temporarily fill vacancies in offices during Senate recesses.
3.  Recall Congress from recess “on extraordinary occasions”.
4.  Adjourn Congress when the two chambers disagree on adjournment dates.
5.  Request the written opinions of cabinet officials on matters relating to their departments.
6.  Grant reprieves and pardons for all federal offenses, except in cases of impeachment.
7.  Issue Executive Orders directing the activities of agencies in the Executive Branch of the federal government, within the           bounds of existing law.
8.  Hold public press briefings.  While it’s traditional, expected, and encouraged, it is not required.

1.  Remain in office indefinitely.

  • The president’s term of office is four years.   
  • S/he is elected in November, inaugurated on the following January 20, and limited to two terms in office.3
  • S/he can not postpone an election or refuse to leave the White House when the next president takes office.

2.  Spend government money. 

  • ONLY Congress can appropriate money.4

3.  Introduce bills to Congress. 

  • Only a member can do that, though they can do so at the president’s request. 5

4.  Introduce, approve, or veto any constitutional amendments.6
5.  Hire or fire any member of Congress.7

6.  Control anything that happens in Congress. 

  • S/he can lobby, request, and whine.  S/he can not require anything.8

7.  Control anything that happens in state or local governments, unless specifically
     stated in the Constitution.9
8.  Receive any emoluments – such as money, valuables, or other benefits – from
     the United States or from any individual state.

You know, we could save ourselves a lot of time and trouble if we would demand
​that our schools teach civics properly. 
Most of the stuff they teach is wrong, when they bother to teach it at all.

Read the Constitution
Community Matters:  The Presidency
TPM:  Trump Claims Article 2 Gives Him ‘The Right To Do Whatever I Want As President’
NPR:  FACT CHECK: Trump Doesn't Have The Authority To Order States To 'Reopen'
​Defective Teaching Methods Produce American Political Ignorance

All from the US Constitution:

  1. Article I. Section 7. Clause 3.
  2. 25th Amendment
  3. 20th and 22nd Amendments
  4. Article I. Section 9. Clause 7.
  5. Article I. Section 1.
  6. Fifth Amendment
  7. Article I. Section 5.  Clause 1.
  8. Article I. Section 5.  Clause 2.
  9. Tenth Amendment

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