Gerald Ford, Watergate, and Separation of Powers | BRI Scholar Talks
What actions to limit presidential power did President Gerald Ford take after the Watergate scandal and the resignation of Richard Nixon? In this episode of Scholar Talks, Dr. Alex E. Hindman, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the College of the Holy Cross, joins BRI Senior Teaching Fellow Tony Williams to talk about his book “Gerald Ford and the Separation of Powers: Preserving the Constitutional Presidency in the Post-Watergate Period.” Together, they discuss President Ford’s famous pardon of Richard Nixon, the effect of the War Powers Resolution on presidential powers, and how President Ford preserved the constitutional powers and limits of the presidency.
The Resignation of Richard Nixon
Shortly before Richard Nixon was re-elected President in 1972, individuals connected with his re-election campaign were arrested while breaking into Democratic Party Headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington DC. Nixon was re- elected by an overwhelming margin, but questions surrounding his knowledge of the break-in, and his attempt to cover it up would not go away. During these investigations, Nixon’s Vice President, Spiro Agnew, was forced to resign on unrelated corruption charges. According to the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, the President must nominate a new Vice President when that office becomes vacant, and both houses of Congress must approve that Vice President. Because few in Congress believed that Nixon’s presidency would survive, key members of Congress told Nixon to nominate as Vice President a distinguished Republican Member of Congress, Gerald Ford. After Nixon’s resignation, Ford was sworn in as President and made the extremely unpopular decision of issuing Nixon a full pardon “for all offences against the United States.”
Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and the War Powers Resolution
Beginning in 1812 and for the next hundred years, US Presidents asked for and received congressional declarations of war against England, Mexico, Spain, Japan, and European powers. During the Cold War, President Harry Truman sent troops to Korea as part of a UN force without a congressional declaration of war. President John F. Kennedy sent troops to defend South Vietnam. Congress never declared war, but years later passed the Tonkin Resolution authorizing President Lyndon Johnson to use force against North Vietnam. In reaction to US involvement in Vietnam, Congress passed the War Powers Act which limited the President’s authority to commit American troops abroad without Congress’s approval. The law was passed over the veto of President Richard Nixon, who argued the law was an abridgement of the President’s authority as Commander in Chief. The Act raises the questions: How far does the President’s power as Commander in Chief extend? And, how much of that power can be limited by Congress?