Presidential Accountability

March 7, 1973

Report Outline
Concern Over Acccount Ability Question
Accountability and Separation of Powers
Restraints on Presidential Absolutism
Special Focus

Concern Over Acccount Ability Question

Conflict with Congress Over Exersice of Power

At the heart of the current contest between the President and Congress is the question of accountability—specifically the accountability of those who govern to those who are governed in a democratic society. Critics of Richard M. Nixon contend that he is assuming powers that rightfully belong to the legislative branch of government, the branch most open to public scrutiny in its day-to-day deliberations and hence most accountable to the voter in its actions.

The decisions of Congress are reached by a protracted process involving public hearings and debates that keep the channels of popular pressure open for many weeks and months while proposed legislation is being considered. Final determination of policy is usually the product of a consensus after all shades of opinion have been heard. This process contrasts with the solitary decision-making of a President, who is only rarely under any constitutional obligation to consult with anyone or even to give out advance signals before taking actions of momentous import to the nation.

Presidents are accountable in the sense that they usually cannot succeed for long in the exercise of power unless they can count on the support of a wide majority of the citizenry. Normally, the instrument of popular restraint on an overreaching President is Congress, whose members tend to be jealous of legislative prerogatives. But a daring or determined President may be undaunted by outcries from Congress. He may acquire massive support by appealing to the nation over the head of Congress on an issue. Or he may build up so much trust in his leadership that he can rely on public acceptance of his actions, however arbitrary and even discomfiting, and thus overcome any resistance that might be manifested in Congress.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Executive Powers and the Presidency
Feb. 24, 2006  Presidential Power
Nov. 15, 2002  Presidential Power
Feb. 02, 2001  The Bush Presidency
Jun. 20, 1997  Line-Item Veto
Jun. 14, 1996  First Ladies
Oct. 21, 1988  Dangers in Presidential Transitions
Jun. 10, 1988  The Quandary of Being Vice President
Jan. 06, 1984  Presidential Advisory Commissions
Jul. 28, 1978  Presidential Popularity
Feb. 13, 1976  Evaluating Presidential Performance
Dec. 12, 1975  Presidential Protection
Jul. 11, 1973  Presidential Reorganization
Mar. 07, 1973  Presidential Accountability
Sep. 24, 1971  Presidential Diplomacy
Nov. 11, 1970  Vice Presidency
Oct. 02, 1968  Presidential Power
Mar. 14, 1966  War Powers of the President
Nov. 23, 1960  Transfer of Executive Power
Apr. 04, 1956  Vice Presidency
Oct. 15, 1952  Change of Presidents
Jun. 09, 1950  President and Mid-Term Elections
Oct. 20, 1948  Federal Patronage
Mar. 24, 1948  The South and the Presidency
Dec. 05, 1947  Military Leaders and the Presidency
Apr. 16, 1947  Veto Power of the President
Sep. 20, 1945  Succession to the Presidency
Sep. 12, 1940  The War Powers of the President
Feb. 11, 1938  Emergency Powers of the President
Jan. 06, 1938  The Power to Declare War
Dec. 28, 1937  Extension of the Veto Power
Dec. 28, 1936  Limitation of the President's Tenure
Mar. 12, 1935  The President and the Congress
Dec. 16, 1932  The Veto Power of the President
May 28, 1931  Presidential Commissions
Oct. 23, 1928  Presidential Appointments and the Senate
Mar. 21, 1928  Business Conditions in Presidential Years
Jan. 20, 1927  The Monroe Doctrine
Mar. 18, 1925  The President's Power of Appointment
Sep. 10, 1923  The President's Position on Patronage
Powers and History of the Presidency
Separation of Powers