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Zócalo Public Square
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Does the Expansion of Presidential Power Threaten the Constitution?


Moderated by Ronald Brownstein, The Atlantic Senior Editor and CNN Senior Political Analyst


Fundamental to the U.S. Constitution is its system of “checks and balances” designed to limit the reach of all three branches of the federal government and their officials. But has the American presidency become too powerful to be checked or balanced? Since the New Deal, presidents have been amassing new authority, commanding ever-larger bureaucracies, and holding sway over expanding federal regulations affecting every aspect of American life. Executive action—which includes all presidential orders, proclamations, or memorandums—is a broad term referring to the president’s ability to direct policy without legislation. In recent decades, presidents have taken advantage of a gridlocked and weak Congress to make changes by executive order and even go to war without legislative authorization. Has the office grown so mighty that the presidency itself is a threat to our democracy and security? What new limits, if any, should be put on the president’s powers? UCLA constitutional law scholar Adam Winkler, UCLA political scientist and The New York Times contributing columnist Lynn Vavreck, director of UCLA’s Center for American Politics and Public Policy Joel Aberbach, and UCSB political scientist and co-director of the American Presidency Project website John T. Woolley visit Zócalo to discuss whether the Constitution is still an effective check on America’s chief executive.