President’s Day

This week’s review reveals the latent power presidents have over Congress, and how because of it they can shape political contexts—and votes

The president on Capitol Hill : a theory of institutional influence

Cohen, Jeffrey E. Columbia, 2019
312p bibl index, 9780231189149 $105.00, 9780231189156 $35.00, 9780231548199 $34.99

The spate of literature on presidential influence on Congress spawned by Richard Neustadt’s seminal Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents: The Politics of Leadership from Roosevelt to Reagan (CH, Apr’91, 28-4783) has been contentious. Some scholars, Neustadt among them, have focused on the personal political skills wielded and the savvy possessed by a president. Others have maintained, as Cohen (Fordham Univ.) points out, that the context that presidents confront makes them “mere hostages or captives of the larger environment.” In this rigorous and persuasive book, Cohen argues that simply by the act of taking a position on a roll-call vote presidents exercise influence over Congress’s actions. Cohen is careful to underscore that presidents do not position-take only to lobby Congress. Nonetheless, through the use of both regression analysis and quasi-experimental “treatment-effects” analysis, he argues that presidents have the requisite “structured agency” “to influence their environment and/or the voting behavior of others, such as the voting behavior of members of Congress.” Cohen’s analysis is a superb corrective to works that fail to appreciate how presidents’ position-taking can influence what are often considered to be “Congress-centered factors,” thus allowing presidents to shape political context as well as respond to the political context they encounter.

Summing Up: Essential. Graduate students, researchers, faculty.
R. P. Seyb, Skidmore College
Subject: Social & Behavioral Sciences – Political Science – U.S. Politics
Choice Issue: Feb 2020