United States Government/The Executive Branch

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Contents Colonial America - Articles of Confederation - The Constitutional Convention - Ratification - The Three Branches - The Federal System - General Provisions - The Bill of Rights - The Later Amendments - Legislative Branch - Executive Branch - Judicial Branch

The Executive Branch, which executes and enforces the laws, is headed by the President and the Vice President. In addition, it includes the executive departments, which deal with general topics, and the heads of departments, who are known as Secretaries (Attorney-General in the Department of Justice). Each Department, in turn, is divided into a number of bodies, which are known as agencies, services, commissions, councils, bureaus, authorities, offices, administrations, and boards.


The PresidentEdit

The President is the elected head of state and head of government of the United States. The President leads the Executive Branch and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces.

Article Two of US Constitution vest the executive power in the President. The power includes execution of federal law, alongside the responsibility of appointing federal executive, diplomatic, regulatory and judicial officers and making treaties with foreign nations, however all treaties made by the President must be approved by a two-thirds vote of the Senate. The president is further empowered to grant federal pardons and reprieves, and to convene and adjourn either or both houses of Congress under extraordinary circumstances. The President is also largely reasonable for dictating the legislative agenda of the party to which he is enrolled.

The President of the United States is considered one of the most powerful people in the world, as he leads the wolds only superpower.

Powers and DutiesEdit

Article One: Legislative Powers.

The first power the President is given in the Constitution, is the power to veto bills of legislation. The Constitution requires that all bills passed by Congress to be presented to the President before it can obtain legal force. Once a bill has been presented, the President has one of three options:

  1. The president may sign the bill, it which case it obtains legal force.
  2. The President may veto (refuse to sign) the bill, in which case it does not obtain legal force. The President then returns the bill, expressing any obligation he may have had on it, to Congress. Congress may override a veto by a two-thirds vote in both houses. Upon overriding the veto, the bill obtains legal force.
  3. The President may take no action on a bill. In this case the President does not sign or veto the legislation. If after ten day, not including Sundays, the President has still neither signed nor vetoed the bill, two possible outcomes emerge:
    • If Congress is still convened, the bill becomes law.
    • If Congress has adjourned, thus preventing the return of the legislation, the bill does not become law. This latter outcome is known as the pocket veto.

Article Two: Executive Powers.

One of the most important Presidential powers is the command-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the United States. While the Constitution vest the power to declare war solely in Congress, the President is ultimately reasonable for the disposition and direction of the Armed Forces.

Along with the armed forces, the president also directs U.S. foreign policy. Through the Department of State and the Department of Defense, 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 negotiates treaties with other nations, which become binding on the United States when approved by two-thirds vote of the Senate.[citation needed]

Although not constitutionally provided, presidents also sometimes employ "executive agreements" in foreign relations. These agreements frequently regard administrative policy choices germane to executive power; for example, the extent to which either country presents an armed presence in a given area, how each country will enforce copyright treaties, or how each country will process foreign mail. However, the 20th century witnessed a vast expansion of the use of executive agreements, and critics have challenged the extent of that use as supplanting the treaty process and removing constitutionally prescribed checks and balances over the executive in foreign relations. Supporters counter that the agreements offer a pragmatic solution when the need for swift, secret, and/or concerted action arises

The President is the head/leader of the Executive Branch of the federal government and is Constitutionally bound to "take care that the law be faithfully executed." The President has the power to make appointments within the Executive branch. Ambassadors, members of the Presidential Cabinet, and federal court officers are appointed by the President, although every appointed official by him must be approved by the Senate.

The President also has the power to fire/remove purely executive officials at will, although Congress has the authority to curtail or constrain the Presidents power to fire/remove commissioners of independent regulatory agencies and certain inferior executive officers by statute.

The president possesses the ability to direct much of the executive branch through executive orders that are grounded in federal law or constitutionally granted executive power. Executive orders are reviewable by federal courts and can be superseded by federal legislation.

The president also has the power to nominate federal judges, including members of the United States courts of appeals and the Supreme Court of the United States. However, these nominations do require Senate confirmation. Securing Senate approval can provide a major obstacle for presidents who wish to orient the federal judiciary toward a particular ideological stance. When nominating judges to U.S. district courts, presidents often respect the long-standing tradition of Senatorial courtesy. Presidents may also grant pardons and reprieves for offense recognizable under federal law. The President cannot, however, grant pardons in impeachment cases, or grant pardons for persons convicted under State law/Jurisdiction.

The President also cannot be simultaneously a member of Congress, neither can any other executive officer. Therefore, the President cannot directly introduce legislative proposals for consideration in Congress. However, the President can take an indirect role in shaping legislation, especially if the President's political party has a majority in one or both houses of Congress. For example, the President or other officials of the executive branch may draft legislation and then ask senators or representatives to introduce these drafts into Congress. The President can further influence the legislative branch through constitutionally mandated, periodic reports to Congress. These reports may be either written or oral, but today are given as the State of the Union address, which often outlines the President's legislative proposals for the coming year. Additionally, the President may attempt to have Congress alter proposed legislation by threatening to veto that legislation unless requested changes are made.


If the President dies, resigns, is removed from office, or is unable to discharge the powers and duties of the Presidency, the Vice-President becomes President.

Under the Twenty-Fifth amendment, the President may declare himself disabled and upon doing so, transfers the powers and duties of the Presidency to the Vice-President, who then becomes acting President. The President may resume the powers and duties of the Presidency by declaring himself again able to discharge the same. Under the same amendment, the Vice-President, along with a majority of the members of the President's cabinet, may declare the President disabled by submitting a written declaration to the Speaker of the House and the president pro tempore of the Senate, stating that President is disabled from discharging the powers and duties of the Presidency, and upon doing so, transfer the Presidential powers to the Vice-President as acting President. The President may resume discharging the powers and duties of the Presidency by submitting a written declaration to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and President pro tempore of the senate stating that such disability does not exist. If the Vice-President and Cabinet contest this claim, it is up to Congress, which must meet within two days if not already in session, to decide the merit of the claim.

A President is:

  1. required to be natural born citizen,
  2. required to be at least thirty-five years of age,
  3. required to have been a permanent resident in the United States for at least Fourteen years,
  4. barred from being elected to the office more than twice.

A person may not hold the office of President, if that person:

  1. was impeached by the Senate and voted by the same to be disqualified from holding any federal office, including that of President,
  2. Once swore to uphold the Constitution and latter rebelled against the United States, although such disqualification can be removed by a two-thirds vote of both Houses of Congress.

The Vice PresidentEdit

The Vice President's only executive function in the Constitution is to become President in the event that the President dies or is incapacitated. The 25th Amendment provides that this may occur when:

  1. "the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary;" or
  1. "the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office."

Additionally, "whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress."

In practice, the Vice President often takes an active role in policy making.

The Vice President also serves as president of the Senate, but cannot vote except to break a tie.


Each state is entitled to choose a number of Electors equal to the number of Representatives and Senators it elects to Congress. Thus, a state will choose no less than three electors- two for the Senators, and one for the minimum of one Representative.

The state may choose its Electors in any way it pleases. However, all the states allow the people to choose all Electors. Forty-eight states use the following system: each candidate nominates a panel of electors. When a voter votes for a candidate, they actually vote for the nominated panel. Then, the candidate who wins more votes than any other candidate has his nominated panel appointed. Thus, a candidate who does not necessarily win all the votes will receive all of the state's electors. The exceptions to this system are Maine and Nebraska. These states allow a candidate to nominate one state panel of two electors, plus one elector for each district. Then, the candidate who wins the state has his two-member state panel appointed as electors, while the candidate who wins an individual district has his nominee for that district appointed. In all cases, the election for the Electors is held on the same day as Congressional elections.

Regardless of how they are chosen, the Electors all assemble in their own states in December. The manner of the voting by Electors has changed. Firstly, the following is the original system:

  • Each Elector casts two votes for President. One of those votes must be for a person not an inhabitant of the same state as the Elector. Then, if a candidate receives the votes of a majority of Electors becomes President, while the runner-up becomes Vice President. If one compares the Presidency to a gold medal, then one may say that the Vice Presidency was like a silver medal.

If, however, no candidate received a majority, then the House of Representatives would choose one of the top five candidates as President. In voting for President, each state casts one block vote. In any case, whichever other candidate holds the greatest number of votes other than the candidate elected President becomes Vice President. In case of a tie for second-place, the Senate elects the Vice President.

  • The above system seems to allow for all contingencies, but it did not allow for the development of political parties. Prior to the election of 1800, parties did not nominate candidates. However, in 1800, the Democratic-Republican Party nominated Thomas Jefferson for President and Aaron Burr for Vice President. The pair won a clear majority of the votes. However, both had an equal number of Electoral votes. Though the original intention was clearly for Jefferson to become President and Burr to become Vice President, the House still had to vote to choose one or the other as President. The House votes tied thirty-five times until Jefferson was finally elected President.
  • In order to prevent a recurrence, the Twelfth Amendment was passed. Under the Amendment, the electors would vote separately for President and Vice President. In each case, a majority was required for someone to be elected. If no majority was apparent for President, then the House would choose among the top three candidates, again voting by states. Similarly, the Senate would vote between the top two candidates for Vice President.

The District of Columbia chooses Electors like the other states, but the District can in no event choose more Electors than any other state.

Executive departmentsEdit

At present, there are fifteen executive departments. They are the departments of:

  • Department of Agriculture (USDA)
  • Department of Commerce (DOC)
  • Department of Defense (DOD)
  • Department of Education (ED)
  • Department of Energy (DOE)
  • Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
  • Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
  • Department of Justice (DOJ)
  • Department of Labor (DOL)
  • Department of State (DOS)
  • Department of the Interior (DOI)
  • Department of the Treasury
  • Department of Transportation (DOT)
  • Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

Each department is subdivided into a number of agencies, bureaus and other divisions.

Executive agenciesEdit

In addition to the Cabinet departments, there are certain independent bodies which are not part of any department, but report directly to the Executive Office of the President. These include:

  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
  • Office of Management and Budget (OMB)
  • Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP)
  • Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR)

The CabinetEdit

The Cabinet currently consists of the Vice President, the White House Chief of Staff, the heads of each executive department, and the heads of the EPA, OMB, ONDCP and USTR.

Contents Colonial America - Articles of Confederation - The Constitutional Convention - Ratification - The Three Branches - The Federal System - General Provisions - The Bill of Rights - The Later Amendments - Legislative Branch - Executive Branch - Judicial Branch