United States Government: Democracy in Action
[logo] Essential Question
What are the prime duties of the presidency, the single most powerful office in the nation, and how is the president selected?
Section 1 President and Vice President
The president of the United States is one of the most powerful individuals in the world. The Constitution makes the president the commander in chief of the armed forces and gives the president the authority to appoint heads of executive departments, federal court judges, and other top officials, as well as make treaties with other nations—with the Senate's consent. The president ensures that all the laws of the United States are faithfully executed. A president can serve up to two four-year terms in office.
The president and vice president must be natural-born citizens, at least 35 years old, and residents of the United States for at least 14 years before taking office. Personal wealth is a great asset for any candidate running for president because campaigning costs tens of millions of dollars.
The Twenty-fifth Amendment clarifies the succession to the presidency and vice presidency, and also describes what should be done when a president is disabled. The Succession Act of 1947 established the order of presidential succession. A vice president's power depends on the duties the president assigns.
Section 2 Electing the President
The Founders set up the Electoral College, which elected the president indirectly. The Twelfth Amendment requires that electors cast separate ballots for president and vice president. In the Electoral College system, parties choose their nominees for president in conventions held in late summer. Voters cast their ballots every four years on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Voters are actually voting for all of their party's electors in their state. The Electoral College includes 538 electors—with each state having as many electors as it has senators and representatives in Congress. A candidate must win at least 270 of the 538 votes.
In most states, the party whose candidate receives the largest popular vote wins all its electoral votes. Critics argue that this system is unfair. The winner-take-all system makes it possible for a candidate who loses the popular vote to win the electoral vote. If no candidate receives 270 electoral votes, the House of Representatives must decide the election, with each state casting one vote. The candidate who receives 26 or more votes is elected.
The new president takes office at noon on January 20 in the year following the presidential election. The chief justice of the United States administers the oath of office, and the new president then gives an Inaugural Address.
Section 3 The Cabinet
One of the first responsibilities of the president is to organize and staff the executive branch. The president appoints the secretaries that head the 15 major executive departments. These secretaries, the vice president, and several other top officials make up the cabinet. Cabinet members are selected to provide geographic and political balance as well as racial and gender representation. The Senate holds confirmation hearings on the president's nominees for cabinet posts.
The cabinet meets when the president calls it together. Most presidents have used their cabinets as sounding boards for ideas, not as the advisory board that President George Washington envisioned. Some cabinet members, however, have greater influence because their departments are concerned with the most sensitive national issues—the secretaries of state, defense, the treasury, and the attorney general, for example.
Section 4 The Executive Office
The Executive Office of the President (EOP) is made up of people and agencies that directly assist the president with advice and information. Modern presidents use the EOP to help implement decisions and to maintain control over the entire executive branch. The size of the EOP has grown rapidly and consists of the White House Office, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the National Security Council (NSC), the Council of Economic Advisers, and several other specialized agencies that report directly to the president.
The OMB helps prepare the national budget for the president, who then presents it to Congress. The NSC advises the president and coordinates American military and foreign policy. The Council of Economic Advisers formulates the nation's economic policy by assessing its economic health, predicting future conditions, and proposing solutions to specific problems such as inflation or unemployment.
The White House Office has become the most important part of the EOP. These top assistants to the president include the chief of staff, deputy chief of staff, White House counsel, and press secretary. Some aides can become very influential. The White House staff gathers information, provides advice about key issues, makes sure the executive agencies and departments carry out the president's directives, handles relations with the press corps, and works with members of Congress. Which people and which issues get through to the president is decided largely by White House aides.