Executive Branch

Friday news dump

Releasing bad news or documents on a Friday afternoon in an attempt to avoid media scrutiny is often called a “Friday news dump” by members of the media.

NPR: “Often, the White House sets the release of bad news and unflattering documents to late Friday afternoon. The Pentagon and other agencies also use the practice, a legacy of earlier administrations.”

The television show The West Wing had an episode on the technique called, “Take Out the Trash Day.”

Donna: What’s take out the trash day?

Josh: Friday.

Donna: I mean, what is it?

Josh: Any stories we have to give the press that we’re not wild about, we give all in a lump on Friday.

Donna: Why do you do it in a lump?

Josh: Instead of one at a time?

Donna: I’d think you’d want to spread them out.

Josh: They’ve got X column inches to fill, right? They’re going to fill them no matter what.

Donna: Yes.

Josh: So if we give them one story, that story’s X column inches.

Donna: And if we give them five stories …

Josh: They’re a fifth the size.

Donna: Why do you do it on Friday?

Josh: Because no one reads the paper on Saturday.

Donna: You guys are real populists, aren’t you?

Teflon president

teflon president

The term “Teflon president” describes a president who has a seemingly magical ability to avoid blame. A Teflon president is so charismatic that — like a Teflon pan — nothing unwanted can stick to him. No matter how much dirt his opponents uncover, the voters forgive him for it.

Rep. Pat Schroeder, a Democrat from Colorado, coined the term in 1983 when she took the House floor to denounce then-President Ronald Reagan. Schroeder said of Reagan, “He has been perfecting the Teflon-coated presidency: He sees to it that nothing sticks to him.” (Schroeder later said that the expression came to her while she was frying eggs in a Teflon, or non-stick pan.)

Reagan’s critics charged that he was bumbling and incompetent – but the public continued to love him. To this day, most people associate the term “Teflon president” with Ronald Reagan. But other presidents have been described as “Teflon” also. Pat Schroeder herself told CNN that Bill Clinton was very “Teflonish.” She mused that in fact, more and more politicians seemed to be doing everything they could to avoid responsibility:

I mean, the interesting thing about that…is my hope was that people would say, ‘That’s right. He is the captain of the ship and the captain of the ship has some responsibility.’ They didn’t say that. Instead they said, ‘How do I get one of those Teflon coats? Where do they sell them?’

Steve Kornacki notes Schroeder’s characterization “was meant to be disparaging, but in coining the term ‘Teflon president,’ Schroeder actually identified a significant phenomenon in politics — the willingness of voters to excuse in some politicians shortcomings that they wouldn’t accept in most others.”

Pundits have also accused Barack Obama of wearing a Teflon coat. Analysts pointed out that even when voters said they disagreed with President Obama’s policies, his approval ratings remained high. In 2009,for example, only 44 percent of Americans said they agreed with the way Obama was handling healthcare. But 63 percent of voters said they had a favorable view of the president.

More recently, a number of commentators have asked whether President Trump is also made of Teflon. After all, they reason, Trump has survived an impeachment hearing and a number of public scandals within his administration. In fact, Trump has been called the “luckiest guy ever to hold the office of president of the United States, because of his seemingly inexhaustible ability to dodge the slings and arrows that are thrown at him.

“Teflon” can also be used to describe any powerful person who manages to avoid blame over a long period of time. The New York mafia boss John Gotti was dubbed the Teflon Don, for example, after he managed to avoid conviction in trial after trial during the 1980s. Gotti was finally convicted in 1992 on 14 counts of conspiracy to commit murder and racketeering.

In 1986 the New York Times noted that DuPont, the manufacturers of Teflon, were angry about the way the word Teflon was being used in the press. As it turned out, DuPont didn’t care that people were describing the president as “Teflon.” The company simply wanted people to remember to put a trademark symbol next to the word. In a press release, Dupont said, ”It is not, alas, a verb or an adjective, not even when applied to the President of the United States!”

military industrial complex

military industrial complex

The “military industrial complex” refers to the comfortable relationship between the military, the federal government and the defense contractors that produce weapons and equipment for war.

The term was immortalized by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his farewell address to the nation on January 17, 1961. In the speech, Eisenhower cites the military-industrial complex as a warning to the American people not to let this dictate America’s actions at home or abroad.

Said Eisenhower: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

sacred cow

A “sacred cow” is any program, policy, or person that is regarded as being beyond attack or untouchable. The term references the status held by cows in Hindu culture, where the cow is regarded as a sacred animal.

For instance, in American politics, Social Security has been considered a sacred cow because it is so politically popular that most politicians would never support ending the program.

“Sacred Cow” was also the nickname of the first military aircraft used to transport a United States president.  According to the National Museum of the Air Force, President Franklin D. Roosevelt flew in the Sacred Cow to meet Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and General Secretary Joseph Stalin in the USSR for the Yalta Conference in February 1945.

body man

A “body man” is an assistant who follows a political figure around the clock, providing logistical assistance for daily tasks ranging from paperwork to meals. This is different than the advance man who typically prepares solely for campaign events.

The term body man typically refers to the closest personal aide to a president or presidential candidate. This assistant stays with the official at all times save for sensitive meetings and personal moments. Body men work with political advisors, administrative staff, and family members to manage the president’s time. The president typically selects a body man from their campaign or previous office to ensure confidentiality.

Political observers have only used this term in public recently with the earliest published reference dating back to 1988. In The Boston Globe, Susan Trausch described the body man as someone who “makes sure the candidate’s tie is straight for the TV debate, keeps his mood up and makes sure he gets his favorite cereal for breakfast.”

Google Trends found a steady increase in searches related to this term since 2004. The trend line has grown from relative interest ratings of 35 in January 2004 to 85 in February 2020. Increased media coverage of presidential inner circles over time has boosted body man into the forefront of political terminology.

Duties for the president’s body man have evolved over time. Reggie Love, a body man for President Barack Obama, said that he was hired without a job description. Blake Gottesman helped President George W. Bush handle his dog, pay for meals during campaign stops, and manage autographs on rope lines. Love played basketball with Obama in addition to handling gifts, documents, and scheduling.

The post-presidential careers of past body men show why the position is so valuable to young politicos. Stephen Bull went from a role as President Richard Nixon’s body man to roles with the U.S. Olympic Committee and the Salvation Army. Tim McBride served as a body man for President George H.W. Bush before moving up the corporate ladder to a vice presidency with United Technologies Corp. Kris Engskov went from President Bill Clinton’s body man to a vice president of operations for Starbucks within a decade of service.

Public familiarity with the body man has been solidified by portrayals in popular TV shows. Characters like Gary Walsh in the HBO political comedy Veep and Charlie Young in the NBC drama The West Wing added dimensions to real-life descriptions of the role.

William Safire: “The informal job title is not be confused with the man with the briefcase, the ever-present carrier of the codes needed by the president to respond to a hostile missile launch. It is more specific and intimate than gofer, a term applied to any aide ready to ”go fer” coffee or do other menial tasks.”

Examples

CNBC (October 27, 2016): “Band had begun his career as Bill Clinton’s ‘body man’ – the young staffer who carried bags, took notes and navigated Clinton through the day.”

Politico (February 9, 2015): “Love was that oddity in politics: the ‘body man’ – part valet, part buddy, part whatever.”

The New York Times (July 19, 2008): “Mr. Engskov says the body man’s job was a study in diplomacy, politics and world affairs rolled into one: ‘It allowed you to see everything the president sees, without the responsibility.’”

czar

A “czar” is an unofficial title used to refer to high-ranking executive branch appointments.

Czars are usually given responsibility for a specific policy area and do not have to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. They usually have an official title, but are referred to as czars by the media: For example, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy is simply known as the drug czar.

Bernard Baruch, appointed by Woodrow Wilson to head the War Industries Board in 1918, was the first to be called a czar. The usage of the term, only one year after the Russian Revolution, was originally derogatory, although it is less so today.

The term czar was used more frequently in reference to appointed executive branch officials under President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II. In 1942, the Washington Post reported on the “executive orders creating new czars to control various aspects of our wartime economy.”

impeachment

An impeachment is a formal charge of criminality raised against an elected official in the first step to remove them from office. In the federal government, only the House of Representatives may bring an impeachment while only the Senate may try and convict the accused. A conviction requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate and results in removal of the accused from office.

Impeachment can also occur at the state level, according to their respective state constitutions.

The impeachment process should not be confused with a recall election which is usually initiated by voters.

pocket veto

A pocket veto is a legislative tactic that allows the president to indirectly veto a bill.

The U.S. Constitution requires the President to sign a bill within the 10 days if Congress is in session. If Congress is in session and the president fails to sign the bill, it becomes law without his signature. However, if Congress adjourns before the ten days are up and the President does not sign the bill, it will not become law. Ignoring it — or putting it in your pocket — has been called a pocket veto.

recess appointment

A recess appointment is a presidential appointment typically requiring Senate approval that is made during a Senate recess.

To be confirmed, the appointment must be approved by the Senate by the end of the next session of Congress or the position becomes vacant again. Recess appointments are authorized by  Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution.

Recess appointments permitted the president to make appointments when the Senate was adjourned for lengthy periods. More recently, however, the president has used the privilege to push through unpopular candidates. For example, during his second term, President Bush appointed several controversial candidates while the Senate was in recess.  In 2007, Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, retaliated by holding pro forma sessions during Senate recesses. As a result, the Bush administration was unable to make further recess appointments.

bully pulpit

bully pulpit

A bully pulpit is a public office or position of authority that provides the holder with an opportunity to speak out and be listened to on any matter.  In theory, the expression could refer to any position of authority. In practice, it is usually used to describe the presidency.

The phrase bully pulpit is attributed to President Theodore Roosevelt, who exclaimed the words in response to critics of his leadership style. Roosevelt said, “I suppose my critics will call that preaching, but I have got such a bully pulpit” as he wrote an address to Congress.

Roosevelt often used the adjective “bully” to describe an event or action that was good or entertaining. The noun pulpit refers to a raised stand used for readings during religious ceremonies.

The bully pulpit in Roosevelt’s mind wasn’t about pummeling legislators with presidential authority; rather, he believed the president could encourage the public to push their legislators on behalf of his agenda. Roosevelt, an avid reader and a prolific writer, coined an enduring phrase that would act as a litmus test for future presidents.

The Republican president was a more activist president than fallen successor William McKinley. Roosevelt won a Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese War. He intervened in a Pennsylvania coal strike and used executive orders to protect natural resources. Roosevelt remained a popular American figure beyond the end of his time as president with his name invoked during the 1916 and 1920 Republican nominating conventions.

Of course, Theodore Roosevelt was not the first president to use his position as a means of lecturing the American people. Abraham Lincoln was using a bully pulpit when he addressed the nation after the Civil War, urging the American people to move forward “with malice toward none, with charity for all.”

Public evaluations of the presidency include how officeholders have used the bully pulpit to promote their values and policies. Dwight Eisenhower was noted for staying clear of the bully pulpit, which contributed to his broad popularity over two terms in office. Jimmy Carter has been celebrated for using the fame of a former president to help domestic and international humanitarian organizations. Donald Trump’s use of Twitter and rallies show modern applications of the bully pulpit concept.

As Robert Schlesinger has noted, the bully pulpit has magnified as communications methods reach deeper into American life. The first presidential radio address was given by Warren Harding but Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt showed how the radio could engage the public. Harry Truman gave the first presidential speech on television but Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy showed the medium’s potential. Trump’s frequent use of social media follows earlier efforts by George W. Bush and Barack Obama to harness the Internet for bully pulpit purposes.

Social media has made it easier than ever for presidents to directly address the American people. Analysts have pointed out that President Donald Trump often uses his Twitter account as a kind of digital bully pulpit. The president took to Twitter to air his views during the impeachment hearings, to the dismay of many pundits. He also uses Twitter to discuss foreign policy and defense spending, among other issues. The president has also used Twitter to announce new policy initiatives and to express his opinions of other public figures.

Examples

Washington Post (July 2, 2017): “With the Republican push to revamp the Affordable Care Act stalled again, even some allies of President Trump question whether he has effectively used the bully pulpit afforded by his office and are increasingly frustrated by distractions of his own making.”

Forbes (January 19, 2017): “Properly exercised, the bully pulpit should reflect the leader’s personality, strengthening a natural and genuine extension of the leader’s communications relationship with followers.”

The Atlantic (April 2013): “The people agreed with Obama that the rich should pay more in taxes, agreed with Reagan that everybody should get a tax cut, and agreed with Franklin Roosevelt on Social Security. These presidents didn’t need to move the needle on these issues; all they had to do was marshal support. But the same three presidents, using the same bully-pulpit tactics, failed to win over the people – and the lawmakers – on other fronts.”

advice and consent

Under Article II of the United States Constitution, presidential nominations for executive and judicial posts take effect only when confirmed by the U.S. Senate. In addition, international treaties become effective only when the U.S. Senate approves them by a two-thirds vote.