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The Executive Branch

The president leads the executive branch of the government. Anyone who is a natural-born citizen, is at least 35 years old, and has been a resident of the United States for at least 14 years is eligible to become president. These same specifications apply to vice presidential candidates. The presidential term lasts for four years. A president may serve only two terms, but there are no other limitations on how many times an individual can seek election.  

Each president takes an oath of office before beginning his or her term. The oath of office appears in the Constitution as follows: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”  

The president, along with other civil officials of the United States, may be removed from office for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” by means of impeachment. The president is also required to give a report on America, which has traditionally been given as the state of the union address. This address is delivered before both chambers of Congress once a year, usually in January. 

Contemporary presidential campaigns include caucuses, primaries, and conventions. Caucuses are meetings at which party members gather to nominate a candidate. Primaries are elections in which eligible voters cast their ballots for their preferred candidate within a particular party or for a delegate who represents that candidate. Conventions are national meetings of the political parties at which state delegates vote and nominate a candidate to represent their party in the national election. The candidates are voted for on Super Tuesday in November, every four years in a national election.  

On Election Day, registered voters in each state choose a group of electors by popular vote. The number of electors for each state equals the number of senators and representatives who serve in Congress from that state. Three additional electors are also chosen by the District of Columbia. These electors convene in December to cast ballots corresponding to the will of the voting populace, though they are not constitutionally obligated to do so. When Congress reconvenes in January, the president of the Senate opens the ballots in front of both houses, and the votes are counted. The candidate with the most electoral votes is declared the winner. If two or more candidates have an equal number of votes, the House of Representatives chooses the president from the nominees who received equal numbers of votes.

Powers
The president is the commander in chief of the Army, Navy, and state militias. The president is responsible for commissioning all the officers of the United States, may ask for executive reports from any principal officer within the government concerning his or her department, and may also reprieve or pardon any offense against the United States with the exception of impeachment.  

After inauguration, the president concentrates on creating a staff of trusted advisors called the Cabinet. Currently there are 14 Cabinet positions, as well as other positions, such as that of the chief of staff, that are accorded the same rank. The president must also choose individuals to serve in various government positions. The Constitution provides that the president “shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for...” The president can also grant commissions to fill seats in the Senate that are vacant. The president serves as an ambassador to foreign countries and receives foreign ambassadors and other public ministers. This role provides for the development of economic, diplomatic, and military policies around the world. Article II, section 2 of the Constitution states that the president “shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur.” These few words are the cornerstone of a major part of our system of divided powers, checks, and balances.  

After Congress has sent an enrolled bill to the president, the president has the power to sign the bill into legislation or to veto the bill. The Constitution provides the president with the power to reject a bill or joint resolution—preventing either from becoming law—through the use of the veto. A regular veto occurs when the president returns the legislation to the house in which it originated. The president usually returns the vetoed bill with a message indicating his reasons for rejecting the measure. The veto can be overridden only by a two-thirds vote in both the Senate and the House. The Constitution grants the president 10 days to review a measure passed by Congress. If the president has not signed the bill after 10 days, it becomes law without his signature. However, if Congress adjourns during the 10-day period, the bill does not become law; this situation is referred to as a pocket veto. The president has the power to convene or adjourn either legislative house or both houses at his or her discretion.  

The president’s Cabinet—the department secretaries and the federal agencies they run—administer our nation’s federal programs, from agriculture policy to veterans’ affairs.

Executive Resources