In this election year most attention is focused on the race of the presidency, and for good reason. In the twentieth century the President has emerged as the single most powerful official in the American political system and, indeed, as the leader of the free world.
But some Republicans are beginning to pay more attention to Congressional races. They fear that Donald Trump will lead the Republicans to a loss so great that he’ll take many Senators and Representatives with him. Actually, the polls do show Trump behind Hillary now, yet still within striking distance. Yet Republicans still fear that he is either unable or unwilling to take the steps necessary to turn the campaign around—to cease the crude and cruel gaffes, to develop a better understanding of basic public policy issues, and offer a more coherent and conservative program for the country. Moreover, Republican concern for the Congress is still justified for another reason as well—the great powers Congress still has under the Constitution of the United States.
The growth of presidential power has been allowed by both the Congress and the general public as they’ve looked to the President to exercise more leadership to cope with war, economic depression, and the rise first of nuclear weapons and now of Islamofascist terrorism. Yet the Constitution itself has not been amended to give the President more power or the Congress less. Consider:
- The Founding Fathers said no policies can be implemented unless adopted by Congress through the legislative process, which they intended Congress to dominate.
- Through the legislative process, the Congress may determine what agencies and departments will comprise the executive branch, what powers and duties they will have, how much money they will and how it will be spent; and how much supervision the President will be allowed to exercise.
- The President may propose legislation, but the Congress may reject or ignore his proposals.
- The President may veto legislation, but the Congress may pass it again over the President’s veto, thereby forcing the President to enforce it even if he doesn’t want to.
- The President may nominate personnel for his administration, but the Senate may reject them if it chooses.
- Both Houses of Congress may work together to impeach and remove the President and other members of his administration.
- The Congress has the sole power to declare war.
The power of the Congress over the courts is also potentially great. The Constitution assigned to the Congress the power to organize the judicial branch of government, including the Supreme Court. Should the Supreme Court declare an act of Congress unconstitutional, the Congress may repass the offending bill, tweaking it if necessary to meet Supreme Court objections, or, in extreme cases, work with the states to amend the Constitution. And as with the President and others in the Executive Branch, the Congress may impeach and remove federal judges.
In short, the Founding Fathers made Congress the first branch of government by giving it the last say in all aspects of public policy, as well as in the design, financing, and staffing of the government. A determined Congress, with able leaders and with each chamber dominated by the same party, will be in a powerful position to help or hurt the next President of the United States, whomever he or she may be. Republicans hope to retain their majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives to minimize what they think will be the grave damage a President Clinton will otherwise inflict on them. And sophisticated Democrats will no doubt be working to take over the Congress and thereby either stump Trump, or help Hillary, depending on who wins the race for the White House.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.