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Executive Branch & Presidents

Executive Branch & Presidents

Home Civics Executive Branch & Presidents Teaching Discussion and Essay Questions

Discussion and Essay Questions

Available to teachers only as part of the Teaching the Executive Branch & PresidentsTeacher Pass

Teaching the Executive Branch & Presidents Teacher Pass includes:

  • Assignments & Activities
  • Reading Quizzes
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  • Discussion & Essay Questions
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  • Related Readings in Literature & History

Sample of Discussion and Essay Questions


  1. The Presidency
    • What do you think of the formal qualifications for the presidency?
      • Should there be an age requirement?
        • Given the growing complexity of the office, should the age requirement be higher?
      • Why can’t a naturalized citizen run?
        • Why do you suppose the framers insisted on this?
      • Why not let the voters decide? Wouldn’t that be the democratic thing to do?
    • Considering the range of responsibilities, is the job of president too big for one person?
    • Some proposed (and a few continue to propose) a dual executive—would this work?
      • How would you carve up the responsibilities?
      • Would each one have any input or check on the other’s turf?
    • The president can only be impeached for committing crimes—should Congress have more flexibility in deciding when to impeach a president?
      • (Under a parliamentary form of government like Great Britain’s, the executive (the prime minister) can be removed when Parliament decides that it no longer has “confidence” in the executive.)
      • How about impeachment for incompetence?
        • The most menial employee can be fired for incompetence—why not the president?
      • How about when the president’s approval rating falls below a certain point?
    • How would modifying America’s impeachment process change the balance of power within the federal government?
  2. The Presidential Election Process
    • One reason for the Electoral College was that the framers worried that the people were not adequately informed to make sound electoral decisions—is this still a valid concern?
      • Has the modern media left us better or worse informed?
    • Is it time to dump the Electoral College?
      • What feature of the Electoral College is most problematic?
        • The winner-take-all allocation of state Electors?
        • The two extra electors awarded each state?
    • Defend the Electoral College. What parts of this system are worth retaining?
  3. Growth of Presidential Powers
    • How has the media enhanced the powers of the presidency?
    • Has this made government more or less democratic?
      • Has it weakened the legislative branch (the branch in which the people are more directly represented) and consequently made government less democratic?
      • Or has it put the president more directly in touch with the people—and strengthened the public’s voice in government?
    • Has the media changed the presidency in other ways?
      • Has it unofficially changed the “qualifications” for office?
      • Would Barack Obama have been elected without the modern media?
      • Would Sarah Palin have been selected as John McCain’s running mate?
        • Did the modern media strengthen or weaken her candidacy?
  4. The Cabinet and Executive Agencies and The Power of Appointment
    • Why should the president have to obtain Senate approval for his cabinet appointees?
    • Does this represent excessive congressional intrusion on the executive branch? Or is this a necessary check on executive power?
  5. The State Department and the Growth of American Foreign Policy
    • The president has a great deal of unilateral power in conducting foreign policy.
      • Why is this necessary?
      • Why is this dangerous?
    • Why has it become more necessary and more dangerous over time?
    • Why was the CIA created?
    • What made the CIA a very “generous” gift from Congress to the president?
      • What was the CIA authorized to do?
      • To whom did the CIA report?
  6. Limits on Presidential Power
    • How did Congress rein in the president’s use of the CIA?
    • How did Congress attempt to rein in the president through the War Powers Act?
      • How exactly does the War Powers Act work?
        • Can Congress force the troops to return home in less than 60 days?
        • What happens if Congress cannot decide what to do and takes no action?
    • Does the War Powers Act appropriately balance the president’s and Congress’s war powers?
    • Or does it tie the president’s hands?
      • Can the president be “commander-in-chief” if Congress can force him to withdraw troops?
      • Does the Congress really have the sole power to declare war if the president can provoke a conflict by deploying troops in international hotspots?
  7. The Unitary Executive
    • What will the presidency look like in fifty years?
      • Will it be even more powerful?
        • What developments are likely to strengthen the presidency?
    • Will the balance of powers be thrown completely out of whack?
    • What might strengthen the legislative branch?
    • Will we need to rethink the presidency?
      • What about a dual executive?
      • What about some sort of elected executive council?