Quora Question: Are Members of Congress Most Qualified to be President?

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Both houses of the U.S. Congress resumed work on Tuesday as they returned from their summer recess. Defunding Planned Parenthood will be a flash point for the Republicans in Congress, the author writes; but that's not the only health program the GOP is targeting. Republicans are planning cuts to teen pregnancy programs and the Obamacare funding they control. Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

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Answer from Ross Cohen:

Are governors or senators more qualified to be president? In the most narrow sense, the U.S. Constitution doesn’t care what previous jobs in government you’ve held, so they’re equally qualified. In the more colloquial sense, it’s entirely debatable.

Governors have executive experience but lack foreign affairs experience, vice versa for a U.S. Senator. Senators have worked on national issues and go deeper in committees, where they may have looked closely at certain issues and been regularly briefed on national security issues (intelligence, armed services, foreign affairs, etc.), but of course governors may have also gone deep on some issues or worked closely on similar issues, particularly if they led a state with major cities.

Senators know Washington, the important players, the various coalitions and interest groups, the inside information of how things get done and through the legislative process. They’ll be able to draw heavily on that knowledge and those relationships as president, to get legislation passed or to staff the administration.

Governors will lack those things, but they will still have that important executive experience senators lack. Perhaps they’ll be more decisive, exercise better administrative leadership, or handle sole responsibility for decisions and their outcomes better. Or perhaps they’ll have trouble dealing with a more diverse electorate, a more diverse legislature, and a more aggressive media than they’re accustomed to back home.

Ultimately, it’s far too simplistic to look at just that one dimension. Is it a governor of a small state or a large state? Does the state have both cities and rural areas? Does the state have a homogenous population or a more diverse one like the country does? Does the state have multiple major industries? Did they face any big crises or issues? Did they work well with the state legislature? Was it an opposition legislature or one heavily skewed toward their own party? Did the economy prosper under their leadership? How did it do relative to similar states? Are the problems they tackled similar to the country’s problems? Are the solutions they used applicable? For example, perhaps their state’s economy did well but only because of an oil boom or housing bubble, or perhaps they “created jobs” simply through a tax giveaway that lured companies from nearby states, a strategy with arguably less feasibility on the national level.

What committees did the senator work on? Does their voting record show any poor, wise, or courageous decisions? Do they have a record of finding common ground with their colleagues? Did they write any commendable legislation? Did they display leadership or savvy in preventing a bad policy or appointment?

Did either the governor or senator have any notable accomplishments? Did they serve in other positions that complement the shortcomings of their position? Are they popular with voters back home? Do their hometown news outlets rate them well? Do they have any scandals or black marks to explain?

The point is there are too many other factors to look at for the answer to this question to have any real value. Perhaps you meant to ask a different question, such as Have Senators or Governors traditionally made better Presidents? It just so happens I’ve answered that one, too.

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