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. They directly oversee all agencies of the executive branch of government and are considered the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces.

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 runs effectively. The president may not introduce new legislation—that's one of the duties of Congress—but they do wield veto power over bills approved by the legislature. All executive powers of the president are enumerated in Article II of the U.S. Constitution.

Election

The president is indirectly elected by the people through the electoral college system to a four-year term. They 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 they have previously served as president or acting president for more than two years of another person's term. The president and vice president are the only two nationally elected offices in the federal government.

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. These include secretaries of State, Defense, and the Treasury as well as the attorney general, who leads the Justice Department.

The president, along with their Cabinet, helps set the tone and policy for the entire executive branch and how the laws of the United States are enforced.

Legislative Powers

The president is expected to address the full Congress at least once a year to report on the State of the Union. Although they do not have the power to enact laws, they do work with Congress to introduce new legislation and carry a great deal of power, particularly with members of their own party, to lobby for legislation they favor.

If Congress should enact a law that the president opposes, they 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

As the nation's chief executive, the president oversees foreign policy, but many of their powers cannot be enacted without the approval of the Senate. But with the Senate's approval, the president is authorized to make treaties with foreign nations and to appoint ambassadors to other countries and the United Nations.

The president and their administration represent the interests of the United States abroad, and this goes beyond formal treaties and appointments. As such, it is common for presidents to meet with, entertain, and develop a relationship with other heads of state.

Domestic Policy

The president is also responsible for overseeing all aspects of domestic policy. This includes managing the government's commitments to the people of the United States as it pertains to programs such as education and healthcare and seeing to it that the nation's economy is healthy and functional.

Commander in Chief of the Military

The president serves as commander in chief of the nation's armed forces. Their powers over the military include the authority to deploy forces at their discretion, invade a country, or commit troops to stations for peacekeeping or investigative purposes with other nations. However, most military actions that a president may take require congressional approval. In extreme circumstances, a president may ask Congress for permission 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. They are also granted many perks. For example, they have two presidential residences to use as they please, the White House and Camp David in Maryland; an airplane, Air Force One, a helicopter, and Marine One at their disposal; and a legion of staff members including several assistants, housekeepers, and a personal chef to aid them in both their professional duties and private life.

Retirement and Pension

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

Former presidents receive a taxable pension equal to the annual salary of the President’s Cabinet secretaries and heads of other executive branch departments. As of 2020, this amounts to $219,200 per year. The pension begins immediately after a president’s departure from office. The widows of former presidents are eligible to receive a pension of at least $20,000 per year, provided that they decline all other pensions available to them.

In addition, former presidents are entitled to—at their option—annual allowances for office space, staff, communications systems, and more. The value of each allowance varies for every president. For example, former president George W. Bush receives $420,506 annually to pay for his office space in Dallas, Texas, and former president Bill Clinton receives $11,900 per year to cover personnel benefits.

Risks of the Job

The job is certainly not without its risks, the greatest concern being the possibility of assassination. Because of this, the president and their family are given round-the-clock protection by the Secret Service. This protection was requested by Congress in 1901 and has been provided since 1902.

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. Because there is still a risk of danger as a public figure, most presidents continue to receive Secret Service protection after they retire from office.

Updated by Robert Longley 

View Article Sources
  1. "2020 Executive and Senior Level Employee Pay Tables." Policy, Data, Oversight: Pay and Leave. United States Office of Personnel Management.

  2. Ginsberg, Wendy, and Daniel J. Richardson. "Former Presidents: Pensions, Office Allowances, and Other Federal Benefits." Congressional Research Service, 16 Mar. 2016.

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Trethan, Phaedra. "What the President of the United States Does." ThoughtCo, Dec. 4, 2020, thoughtco.com/about-president-of-the-united-states-3322139. Trethan, Phaedra. (2020, December 4). What the President of the United States Does. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/about-president-of-the-united-states-3322139 Trethan, Phaedra. "What the President of the United States Does." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/about-president-of-the-united-states-3322139 (accessed July 31, 2021).

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