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Checks on the presidency: lesson overview

A high-level overview of how the president’s agenda can create tension and frequent confrontations with Congress.  
Presidents pursue policy agendas, and they also carry the responsibility for filling more than 3,000 positions. Both of these activities can create tension and confrontations with Congress.

Key terms

presidential nominationA president’s formal proposal of a candidate to fill a position, such as a cabinet member or Supreme Court justice.
confirmationSenate approval of a presidential nomination.
executive orderA rule or order issued by the president without the cooperation of Congress that carries the force of law.

Key documents to know

The Constitution of the United States (1787) — The fundamental laws and principles that govern the United States. The document was a result of several compromises between federalists and anti-federalists at the Constitutional Convention.

Key takeaways

Confirmation of presidential appointments can cause conflict: Some presidential appointments, including cabinet members, ambassadors, and life-tenured judicial appointments, require Senate confirmation. The confirmation process serves as an important check on the presidency and can put the executive and legislative branches at odds.
The stakes are especially high with life-tenured judicial appointments, such as Supreme Court justices; their life-tenured nature gives the president an opportunity to extend his or her influence for decades after leaving office. By comparison, White House staff positions do not require Senate confirmation and are typically much easier to fill.
Conflict between the presidential agenda and the congressional agenda: The president uses executive orders and policy initiatives to achieve policy goals, both of which can bring further conflict with Congress. As executive orders are used to create laws without congressional input or approval, they represent an enhancement of the presidency beyond its expressed constitutional powers.

Review questions

How do presidential appointments cause conflict with Congress?
Which presidential appointment is the most contentious? Why?
How do executive orders cause conflict with the Congressional agenda?

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