The Constitution explicitly assigned the president the power to sign or veto legislation, command the armed forces, ask for the written opinion of the Cabinet, convene or adjourn Congress, grant reprieves and pardons, and receive ambassadors. The president may make treaties which need to be ratified by two-thirds of the Senate. The president may also appoint Article III judges and some officers with the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate.” Wiki on the US Presidency
US media figures are in the habit of referring to the president of the United States as the “Commander in Chief of the United States”
People who do that badly misunderstand the structure of US government as described in the Constitution of the United States. This misunderstanding may have been caused by the disappearance of “Civics” (government) from state mandated high school curricula over the last few decades.
In fact, the president “wears two hats,” hats that are separate in function and scope of authority.
The constitution makes it clear that the president is commander in chief of the armed forces of the United States. As such the armed forces are subject to his orders. The only limits on his authority over the armed forces are those established by federal law. Some examples of acts beyond his power would be controls over methods of acquisition of materiel and the weak restrictions placed on his powers by the War Powers Act. Nevertheless, in general, the president orders the armed forces to act and they then act.
Wearing his other, civilian, “hat,” the president is the head of the Executive Branch of the federal government. The other two branches are the Congress and the Federal Courts. The president, as president, cannot order the Federal Courts or the Congress to do anything. Rather than commanding them he or she must proceed by persuasion, cajoling and support for re-election efforts. This last is always a primary consideration for members of Congress.
In other words the president’s two roles are essentially unrelated and should not be conflated. To confuse these two roles is to imply the possibility of dictatorial rule. The United States has the government that exists because the learned men who drafted the constitution feared the re-creation over time of government that concentrated too much power in a small number of hands.
I have long been an originalist strict construction libertarian, believing as did Mr. Jefferson that “the best government is the least possible.” The problem has always been to discern what the least possible might be.
Nevertheless, I find what is being widely said in the media advocating very narrow limits of presidential power to be disturbing. Among the various themes;
1. That the Attorney General and the Department of Justice are not really subordinates of the president and that they are somehow exempt from his control. This, in spite of the fact that the AG is appointed by the president, is a “line” subordinate and serves “at his pleasure.” That means that the president can fire an AG at any time, for any reason or for no reason although the political costs may be high.
2. It is said with a pious air of violated rectitude that Trump fired all the US Attorneys across the country. For those who do not know, these are the federal prosecutors in each federal court district. They are politically appointed employees of the Justice Department, not of the federal courts, and it is a normal practice to replace them all in a new administration.
3. John Brennan, James Clapper and Admiral Rogers stage-managed a paper in January, 2017 that asserted that the Intelligence Community believed various things about Russian government tinkering with the US election (much as the US does in other countries’ elections). The paper was represented to be an IC wide opinion (like an NIE). In fact the paper was the work product of two of Brennan’s analysts. Clapper gave it his imprimatur as Director of National Intelligence but Admiral Rogers at the National Security Agency could not get his people to express more than limited confidence in the document. DIA, State Department INR, the Army, Navy, Air Force and other agencies were either not consulted or did not deign to “sign on.” Donald J Trump thinks this is a “rum deal,” a phony politically motivated procedure run by a group of “hacks”. Why would he not think that? The reaction of the Left is to excoriate him for his lack of “respect”, for the people who “cooked up” this document. We should remember that the people who “cooked” the document have no legal or constitutional existence outside the framework of the Executive Branch. Any president, in any circumstance could dismiss them all at will. No president is under any obligation at all to accept their opinion or that of anyone in the Executive Branch on anything. They are his advisers and subordinates, tools in his kit box, and that is all they are.
The US federal government is not a parliamentary government. The president of the United States is not “first among equals” as the Prime Minister in a parliamentary government often is.
The president’s powers are limited by law and the constitution but not by custom, tradition or opinions.
Trump’s opponents in “the Resistance” should consider how much they will not want the idea of an shrinking presidency to be applied when next they win the White House. But then, they will have the media behind them.