Power Shifts: Congress and Presidential Representation
By John Dearborn
JMC fellow John A. Dearborn has recently written a book, Power Shifts: Congress and Presidential Representation. It is available for pre-order now and will be released in September 2021:
That the president uniquely represents the national interest is a political truism, yet this idea has been transformational, shaping the efforts of Congress to remake the presidency and testing the adaptability of American constitutional government.
The emergence of the modern presidency in the first half of the twentieth century transformed the American government. But surprisingly, presidents were not the primary driving force of this change—Congress was. Through a series of statutes, lawmakers endorsed presidential leadership in the legislative process and augmented the chief executive’s organizational capacities.
But why did Congress grant presidents this power? In Power Shifts, John A. Dearborn shows that legislators acted on the idea that the president was the best representative of the national interest. Congress subordinated its own claims to stand as the nation’s primary representative institution and designed reforms that assumed the president was the superior steward of all the people. In the process, Congress recast the nation’s chief executive as its chief representative.
As Dearborn demonstrates, the full extent to which Congress’s reforms rested on the idea of presidential representation was revealed when that notion’s validity was thrown into doubt. In the 1970s, Congress sought to restore its place in a rebalanced system, but legislators also found that their earlier success at institutional reinvention constrained their efforts to reclaim authority. Chronicling the evolving relationship between the presidency and Congress across a range of policy areas, Power Shifts exposes a fundamental dilemma in an otherwise proud tradition of constitutional adaptation.
John A. Dearborn is an Assistant Professor of Political Science and Carolyn T. and Robert M. Rogers Dean’s Faculty Fellow at Vanderbilt University. His principal research and teaching interests include the Presidency, Congress, American Political Development, American Political Thought, Public Policy, and Archival Methods. Professor Dearborn’s research is broadly motivated by understanding the relationship between ideas and political authority in America. He explores the role of ideas in changes to presidential power over time not only in Power Shifts, but also in Phantoms of a Beleaguered Republic: The Deep State and the Unitary Executive (with Stephen Skowronek and Desmond King; Oxford University Press). His dissertation received the 2020 E. E. Schattschneider Award for best dissertation in American government from the American Political Science Association and the 2020 George C. Edwards III Award for best dissertation on executive politics from APSA’s Presidents and Executive Politics section.
Professor Dearborn is a JMC postdoctoral fellow.
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