The President as Legislative Leader
What is Bill Clinton's legacy as legislative leader? 1 What strategies did he employ and with what policy results? Did Clinton develop strategies for effective legislative leadership in the treacherous environment of contemporary American politics that future presidents can emulate? Did he make mistakes from which they can learn?
When we consider a president's legacy, one of the first things we think about is his record as a legislative leader. Americans expect their president to serve as the nation's premier legislative leader. This was, however, not always so. Nineteenth-century presidents did not act as legislative leaders nor did Americans expect them to do so. 2 During the twentieth century and especially with the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, legislative leadership came to be seen as central to the role of president; Americans came to expect their presidents to propose a legislative agenda for Congress and to engineer its enactment into law. 3
The U.S. governmental system and the party system it has fostered make it difficult for presidents to be effective legislative leaders. The Constitution created a national government of separate branches sharing power and, by doing so, established a relationship of mutual dependence between the president and Congress. In terms of policymaking, the president was in the weaker position. 4 The legislative power is vested in an independently elected Congress; the president cannot even compel Congress to consider--much less pass--his legislative pro-