What the President of the United States Does

The Nation's Chief Executive

The seal of the President of the United States
President Obama Signs a Bill. Win McNamee / Getty Images

The President of the United States or “POTUS” functions as the head of the United States federal government. The president directly oversees all agencies of the executive branch of government and is considered the commander-in-chief of all branches of the United States Armed Forces.

The executive powers of the president are enumerated in Article II of the U.S. Constitution. The president is indirectly elected by the people through the electoral college system to a four-year term. The president and vice president are the only two nationally elected offices in the federal government.

The president may serve no more than two four year terms. The Twenty-second Amendment prohibits any person from being elected president for a third term and prohibits any person from being elected to the presidency more than once if that person previously had served as president, or acting president, for more than two years of another person's term as president.

The primary duty of the president of the United States is to make sure that all U.S. laws are carried out and that the federal government is run effectively. Although the president may not introduce new legislation - that's the duty of Congress - he does wield veto power over all bills that are approved by the legislature. In addition, the president has the weighty role of commander in chief of the armed forces.

As the nation's chief executive, the president oversees foreign policy, making treaties with foreign nations and appointing ambassadors to other nations and to the United Nations, and domestic policy, dealing with issues within the United States, and economic.

He also appoints members of the Cabinet, as well as Supreme Court justices and federal judges.

Day-To-Day Governance

The president, with Senate approval, appoints a Cabinet, which oversees specific facets of government. Members of the Cabinet include - but are not limited to - the vice president, the presidential chief of staff, the U.S trade representative, and the heads of all the major federal departments, such as the secretaries of state, defense, the Treasury, and the attorney general, who leads the Justice Department. The president, along with his Cabinet, helps set the tone and policy for the entire executive branch and how the laws of the United States are enforced.

Legislative Duties

The president is expected to address the full Congress at least once a year to report on the State of the Union. Although the president does not have the power to enact laws, he does work with Congress to introduce new legislation and carries a great deal of power, particularly with members of his own party, to lobby for legislation he favors. If Congress should enact a law that the president opposes, he may veto the legislation before it can become law. Congress may override the presidential veto with a two-thirds majority of those in attendance in both the Senate and House of Representatives at the time the override vote is taken.

Foreign Policy

The president is authorized to make treaties with foreign nations, pending Senate approval. He also appoints ambassadors to other countries and to the United Nations, though those, too, require Senate confirmation. The president and his administration represent the interests of the United States abroad; as such, he often meets with, entertains and develops a relationship with other heads of state.

Commander in Chief of the Military

The president serves as commander in chief of the nation's armed forces. In addition to his powers over the military, the president has the authority to deploy those forces at his discretion, with congressional approval. He may also ask Congress to declare war on other nations.

Salary and Perks

Being president is not without its perks. The president earns $400,000 per year and is, traditionally, the highest-paid federal official. He has use of two presidential residences, the White House and Camp David in Maryland; has both an airplane, Air Force One, and helicopter, Marine One, at his disposal; and has a legion of staff members including a personal chef to assist him in both his professional duties and private life.

Retirement: Pension and Perks

Under the Former Presidents Act of 1958, former Presidents of the United States who were not been removed from office due to impeachment receive several lifetime retirement benefits. Before 1958, former presidents received no pension or other retirement benefits, whatsoever. Today, former presidents are entitled to a pension, staff and office expenses, medical care or health insurance, and Secret Service protection.

Briefly, former presidents receive a taxable pension equal to the annual salary of the President’s Cabinet secretaries and heads of other executive branch departments, currently $210,700 per year. The pension begins immediately after a president’s departure from office. Former first ladies may also be paid a lifetime annual pension of $20,000 if they relinquish any other pensions the might be eligible to receive.

In addition, former presidents are entitled to—at their option—office space, staff, and communications systems. In some cases, these extra benefits can add up to more than the annual pension payment itself. For example, the federal fiscal year 2018 budget requests for the former presidents include $536,000 for office space for former President Barack Obama and $68,000 for travel for former President George H.W. Bush.

Risky Job

The job is certainly not without its risks. The president and his family are given round-the-clock protection by the Secret Service. Abraham Lincoln was the first U.S. president to be assassinated; James Garfield, William McKinley, and John F. Kennedy were also assassinated while in office. Andrew Jackson, Harry Truman, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan all survived assassination attempts. Presidents continue to receive Secret Service protection after they retire from office.

Updated by Robert Longley