The head of state of the United States is called the President, who also serves the functions of chief executive and commander in chief of the armed forces. By current law, the U.S. president serves a four-year term and may only be re-elected once, as a result of the twenty-second amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
As the most powerful person in the United States, a democratic republic and currently the world's only superpower, the President is sometimes referred to as "the leader of the free world," though this designation was more common during the Cold War. In slang, the President of the United States is sometimes called by the acronym POTUS. The wife of the President is traditionally referred to as the First Lady.
|Table of contents|
1.1 Presidential executive powers
1.2 Presidential legislative powers
1.3 Presidential judicial powers
1.4 Presidential powers in foreign affairs
1.5 Constraints on Presidential power
7.1 Presidents of the Continental Congress
7.2 Presidents of the United States in Congress Assembled
The office of president of the United States is one of the most powerful offices of its kind in the world. The president, the Constitution says, must "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." To carry out this responsibility, the president presides over the executive branch of the federal government ó a vast organization numbering about 4 million people, including 1 million active-duty military personnel. In addition, the president has important legislative and judicial powers.
Within the executive branch itself, the president has broad powers to manage national affairs and the workings of the federal government. The president can issue rules, regulations, and instructions called executive orders, which have the binding force of law upon federal agencies but do not require congressional approval. As commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the United States, the president may also call into federal service the state units of the National Guard. In times of war or national emergency, the Congress may grant the president even broader powers to manage the national economy and protect the security of the United States.
The president nominates ó and the Senate confirms ó the heads of all executive departments and agencies, together with hundreds of other high-ranking federal officials. (See United States Cabinet, Executive Office of the President.) In 2003, more than 3000 executive agency positions were subject to presidential appointment, with more than 1200 requiring Senate approval. The large majority of federal workers, however, are selected through the Civil Service system, in which appointment and promotion are based on ability and experience.
The President is also responsible for preparing the budget of the United States, although the Congress must approve it. (See Office of Management and Budget)
Despite the constitutional provision that "all legislative powers" shall be vested in the Congress, the president, as the chief formulator of public policy, has a major legislative role. The president can veto any bill passed by Congress and, unless two-thirds of the members of each house vote to override the veto, the bill does not become law.
Much of the legislation dealt with by Congress is drafted at the initiative of the executive branch. In annual and special messages to Congress, the president may propose legislation he believes is necessary. If Congress should adjourn without acting on those proposals, the president has the power to call it into special session. But beyond this official role, the president, as head of a political party and as principal executive officer of the U.S. government, is in a position to influence public opinion and thereby to influence the course of legislation in Congress.
To improve their working relationships with Congress, presidents in recent years have set up a Congressional Liaison Office in the White House. Presidential aides keep abreast of all important legislative activities and try to persuade senators and representatives of both parties to support administration policies.
Among the president's constitutional powers is that of appointing important public officials. Presidential nomination of federal judges, including members of the Supreme Court, is subject to confirmation by the Senate. Another significant power is that of granting a full or conditional pardon to anyone convicted of breaking a federal law ó except in a case of impeachment. The pardoning power has come to embrace the power to shorten prison terms and reduce fines.
Under the Constitution, the president is the federal official primarily responsible for the relations of the United States with foreign nations. The president appoints ambassadors, ministers, and consuls ó subject to confirmation by the Senate ó and receives foreign ambassadors and other public officials. With the secretary of state, the president manages all official contacts with foreign governments. On occasion, the president may personally participate in summit conferences where chiefs of state meet for direct consultation. Thus, President Woodrow Wilson headed the American delegation to the Paris conference at the end of World War I; President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with Allied leaders during World War II; and every president since then has sat down with world leaders to discuss economic and political issues and to reach bilateral and multilateral agreements.
Through the Department of State, the president is responsible for the protection of Americans abroad and of foreign nationals in the United States. The president decides whether to recognize new nations and new governments, and negotiate treaties with other nations, which become binding on the United States when approved by two-thirds of the Senate. The president may also negotiate "executive agreements" with foreign powers that are not subject to Senate confirmation.
Because of the vast array of presidential roles and responsibilities, coupled with a conspicuous presence on the national and international scene, political analysts have tended to place great emphasis on the president's powers. Some have even spoken of "the imperial presidency," referring to the expanded role of the office that Franklin D. Roosevelt maintained during his term.
One of the first sobering realities a new president discovers is an inherited bureaucratic structure that can be difficult to manage and slow to change direction. The president's power to appoint extends only to some 3,000 people out of a civilian government work force of about 3 million.
The president finds that the machinery of government (the civil service) often operates independently of presidential interventions, has done so through earlier administrations, and will continue to do so in the future. New presidents are immediately confronted with a backlog of decisions from the outgoing administration. They inherit a budget formulated and enacted into law long before they came to office, as well as major spending programs (such as veterans' benefits, Social Security payments, and Medicare health insurance for the elderly), which are mandated by law. In foreign affairs, presidents must conform with treaties and informal agreements negotiated by their predecessors in office.
As the happy euphoria of the post-election "honeymoon" dissipates, the new president discovers that Congress has become less cooperative and the media more critical. The president is forced to build at least temporary alliances among diverse, often antagonistic interests ó economic, geographic, ethnic, and ideological. Compromises with Congress must be struck if any legislation is to be adopted. "It is very easy to defeat a bill in Congress," lamented President John F. Kennedy. "It is much more difficult to pass one."
Despite these constraints, every president achieves at least some of his legislative goals and prevents by veto the enactment of other laws he believes not to be in the nation's best interests. The president's authority in the conduct of war and peace, including the negotiation of treaties, is substantial. Moreover, the president can use his unique position to articulate ideas and advocate policies, which then have a better chance of entering the public consciousness than those held by his political rivals. President Theodore Roosevelt called this aspect of the presidency "the bully pulpit," for when a president raises an issue, it inevitably becomes subject to public debate. A president's power and influence may be limited, but they are also greater than those of any other American, in or out of office.
Though constrained by various other laws passed by Congress, the President's executive branch conducts most foreign policy, and his power to order and direct troops as commander-in-chief is quite significant. (The exact limits of what a President can do with the military without Congressional authorization are open to debate.)
Article 2, Section 1, of the U.S. Constitution sets the requirements one must meet in order to become President:
There is a well-defined sequence of who should fill the Presidential office, upon the death, resignation, or removal from office (by impeachment and subsequent conviction) of a sitting President:
This list is only partial. See the entire United States Presidential line of succession. The Twenty-fifth Amendment was ratified to define how the President is deemed incapable of discharging his powers and duties and when the Vice President becomes Acting President.
After a President leaves office, he continues to be refered to as "President" for the rest of his life. Former Presidents continue to be important national figures, and in some cases go on to successful post-presidential careers. Notable examples have included former President William Howard Taft's appointment as Chief Justice of the United States and former President Jimmy Carter's current career as a global human rights campaigner.
Currently, there are five living former presidents, which is a record number. They are:
Previously, there have been several occasions where there have been four former presidents simultaneously living.
The first United States Congress voted to pay George Washington a salary of $25,000 a year, a significant sum in 1789. Washington, already a successful man, didn't take the money. Since 2001, the President has earned a salary of $400,000 a year, modest in comparison to the multi-million dollar salaries of most private-sector chief executive officers.
Traditionally, the President, as the most important official in the U.S. government, is to be the highest paid government employee. Consequently, the President's salary serves as a cap of sorts for all other federal officials such as the Chief Justice. The raise for 2001 was approved by Congress and President Bill Clinton in 1999 because other officials who receive annual cost-of-living increases had salaries approaching the President's. Thus, in order to raise the salaries of other federal employees, the President's salary had to be raised to avoid surpassing the President.
Modern Presidents enjoy many non-salary perks such as living and working in the spacious White House mansion in Washington, DC. While travelling, the President is able to conduct all the functions of the office aboard several specially-built Boeing 747s, which take the call-sign Air Force One when the President is aboard. The President travels around Washington in an armored Cadillac limousine, equipped with bullet-proof windows and tires and a self-contained ventilation system in the event of a biological attack. When traveling longer distances around the Washington area, the President travels aboard the Presidential helicopter, Marine One.
Additionally, the President has full use of Camp David in Maryland, a sprawling retreat occasionally used as a casual setting for hosting foreign dignitaries. At all times, the President and his family are protected by an extensive Secret Service detail.
Until the law was changed in 1997, all former Presidents and their family were protected by the Secret Service until their death. The last President to have Secret Service protection for life is Bill Clinton. George Walker Bush and all following Presidents will be protected by the Secret Service for a maximum of 10 years after leaving office.
Four U.S. Presidents have been assassinated:
Four others died in office:
One President resigned from office:
Two Presidents have been impeached, though neither was subsequently convicted:
Four Presidents have been elected without a plurality of popular votes:
Two Presidents have been elected without a majority of electoral votes, and were chosen by the House of Representatives:
The President's residence is the White House.
Presidents of course had homes other than the White House. This is a list of some of those homes:
There were six men who served as President of the Continental Congress prior to the ratification of the Articles of Confederation. These men held very few powers that are now associated with the U.S. presidency and cannot be considered to have been heads of state. Their primary duty was to preside over the Congress (hence the original meaning of "president").
There were ten Presidents under the Articles of Confederation. These men held few powers that are now associated with the U.S. presidency and cannot be considered to have been heads of state or the "Chief Executive". These men were simply heads of government with Congress holding all executive powers.
On a less serious note: