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U.S. Government


The Executive Branch



Qualifications and logistics
  • Qualifications:

    • At least 35 years old

    • Natural born U.S. citizen

    • Resident of the U.S. for the past 14 years

  • Term of office: 4 years

  • Two-term limit (8 years)

    • George Washington set the precedent of presidents serving no more than two terms in office, which every president followed until Franklin D. Roosevelt; FDR served 3 full terms in office and died early in his fourth term (1945)

    • Two-term limit became law in 1951 with the ratification of the Twenty-Second Amendment

  • The Constitution outlines a number of specific presidential powers:

    • Serves as commander-in-chief of armed forces

    • Accepts or vetoes congressional bills

    • Makes treaties with the “advice and consent” of Senate

    • Makes appointments: federal judges, ambassadors, cabinet members (also with advice and consent of Senate)

    • Gives an annual State of the Union message to Congress recommending a legislative agenda

    • Oversees enforcement of federal laws

    • Has the power to grant pardons in all federal cases except those of impeachment

    • Receives ambassadors and other public ministers

  • Although the Founding Fathers intended the president’s main responsibility to be simply the enforcement of congressional laws, the president has become a much more active and influential position

    • Andrew Jackson was the first president to use the veto power extensively, strongly asserting his political will. Following Jackson’s example, many presidents since have set the nation’s legislative agenda.

Process of election
  • The U.S. public does not vote directly for the president; instead, they vote in statewide elections for electors. The electoral college is the group of representatives chosen by the voting public to vote directly for the president and the vice president.

  • Each state is given 1 electoral vote for every senator (2) and representative (at least 1) from that state.

    • As a result, candidates tend to spend most of their campaigning time in the most populous states, where the most electoral votes are at stake.

    • California has the greatest number of electoral votes (55), followed by Texas (34), New York (31), Florida (27), Illinois (21), Pennsylvania (21), and Ohio (20).

    • Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington D.C., and Wyoming have the fewest number of electoral votes (3 each).

  • General presidential elections are held in each state, and the winner receives all the electoral votes for that state.

    • Exceptions are Maine and Nebraska, where two electors are chosen by statewide popular vote, and the remainder by the popular vote within each congressional district.

  • If no candidate wins a majority of the electoral votes (currently 270), then the vote falls to the House of Representatives, where each state gets one vote. The candidate who wins votes from the majority of states (26) becomes president.

    • In 1824, Andrew Jackson won a plurality but not a majority of the votes in a five-candidate election. In the run-off election in the House, John Quincy Adams defeated Jackson.

Process of removal
  • The president, vice president, and federal judges can be “removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” (Art. 2, § 4).

  • The House votes the charges of impeachments

  • The Senate tries all cases of impeachment

    • Chief justice of the Supreme Court presides over the trial

    • A conviction requires a 2/3 vote in the Senate

  • Andrew Johnson and William Jefferson Clinton are the only 2 presidents to be impeached by the House thus far; both were acquitted in the Senate


Vice President

  • Before 1804, the vice presidency was awarded to the candidate who received the second-highest number of votes in the presidential election.

    • After the 1796 election, two rivals—John Adams (Federalist) and Thomas Jefferson (Republican) ended up in office together: Adams as president, and Jefferson, the second-highest vote-getter, as vice president. Their tense and unproductive relationship prompted a call for change.

  • The Twelfth Amendment, ratified in 1804, revised the election process so that candidates clearly run as either president or vice president.

  • Presides over the Senate but votes only in case of a tie

  • Becomes president if the president is unable to serve


Departments and Officers

White House staff
  • Aides and advisers who work closely with the president

  • Often, these aides are longtime political associates and allies of the president

  • The chief of staff heads and coordinates the entire White House staff

  • The Constitution does not expressly provide for the cabinet

  • Basis for the cabinet’s creation is in Article II, Section II of the Constitution: “[The president] may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices”

  • Composed of the heads of 15 federal agencies (listed below) who are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate

  • Advisers unofficially called “cabinet” since the 1790s; name not officially recognized in law until 1907

Executive agencies
  • Cabinet departments include:

    • Department of Agriculture (USDA)

    • Department of Commerce

    • Department of Defense

    • Department of Education

    • Department of Energy

    • Department of Health and Human Services (includes the Food and Drug Administration)

    • Department of Homeland Security

    • Department of Housing and Urban Development

    • Department of the Interior

    • Department of Justice

    • Department of Labor

    • Department of State

    • Department of Transportation

    • Department of the Treasury

    • Department of Veterans Affairs

Executive offices of the president
  • Offices included in the executive branch, including:

    • Council of Economic Advisers

    • Council on Environmental Quality

    • Council on Women’s Initiatives and Outreach

    • Domestic Policy Council

    • National Economic Council

    • National Security Council (NSC)

    • Office of Administration

    • Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives

    • Office of the First Lady

    • Office of Management and Budget (OMB)

    • Office of National AIDS Policy

    • Office of National Drug Control Policy

    • Office of Science and Technology Policy

    • Office of the Vice President of the United States

    • President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board

    • United States Trade Representative (USTR)