The Executive Branch of US Goverment

U.S. Government Quick Study Guide

The White House in the Snow. Win McNamee/Getty Images

Where the buck really does stop is the President of the United States. The president is ultimately responsible for all aspects of the federal government and for the government's successes or failures in fulfilling its responsibilities to the American people.

As specified in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, the president:

  • Must be at least 35 years of age
  • Must be a natural born U.S. citizen
  • Must have been a resident of the United States for at least 14 years

The Constitutional powers granted to the president are enumerated in Article II, Section 2.

  • Serves as commander-in-chief of the US armed forces
  • Signs bills passed by Congress into law or vetoes them
  • Makes treaties with foreign nations (requires the approval of the Senate)
  • Appoints Supreme Court justices, lower federal court justices, ambassadors and Cabinet secretaries with the approval of the Senate
  • Delivers an annual State of the Union message to a joint session of Congress
  • Oversees the enforcement of all federal laws and regulations
  • Can grant pardons and reprieves for all federal crimes, except in cases of impeachment

Legislative Power and Influence

While the Founding Fathers intended that the president exercise very limited control over the actions of Congress - mainly the approval or vetoing of bills - presidents have historically assumed more significant power and influence over the legislative process.

Many presidents actively set the nation's legislative agenda during their terms in office. For example, President Obama's directive for the passage of health care reform legislation.

When they sign bills, presidents can issue signing statements that actually modify how the law will be administered.

Presidents can issue executive orders, which have the full effect of law and are directed to federal agencies that are charged with carrying out the orders. Examples include Franklin D. Roosevelt's executive order for the internment of Japanese-Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Harry Truman's integration of the armed forces and Dwight Eisenhower's order to integrate the nation's schools.

Electing the President: The Electoral College

The public does not vote directly for the presidential candidates. Instead, the public, or "popular" vote is used to determine the number of state electors won by the individual candidates through the Electoral College System.

Removal from Office: Impeachment

Under Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution, the president, vice president and federal judges can be removed from office through the process of impeachment. The Constitution stipulates that "Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors" represent justification for impeachment.

  • The House of Representatives makes and votes on the charges of impeachment
  • If adopted by the House, the Senate holds a "trial" on the charges of impeachment with the Chief Justice of the United States presiding as judge. Conviction and thus, removal from office, requires a two-thirds majority vote of the Senate.
  • Andrew Johnson and William Jefferson Clinton have been the only two presidents impeached by the House. Both were acquitted in the Senate.

The Vice President of the United States

Prior to 1804, the presidential candidate winning the second-highest number of votes in the Electoral College was appointed vice president. Clearly, the Founding Fathers had not considered the rise of political parties in this plan. The 12th Amendment, ratified in 1804, clearly required that the president and vice president run separately for the respective offices. In modern political practice, each presidential candidate selects his or her vice presidential "running mate."


  • Presides over the Senate and may vote in order to break ties
  • Is first in the line of presidential succession - becomes president in the event the president dies or otherwise becomes unable to serve

Presidential Succession

The system of presidential succession provides a simple and rapid method of filling the office of president in the event of the president's death or inability to serve. The method of presidential succession takes authority from Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, the 20th and 25th Amendments and the Presidential Succession Law of 1947.

The current order of presidential succession is:

Vice President of the United States
Speaker of the House of Representatives
President pro Tempore of the Senate
Secretary of State
Secretary of the Treasury
Secretary of Defense
Attorney General
Secretary of the Interior
Secretary of Agriculture
Secretary of Commerce
Secretary of Labor
Secretary of Health and Human Services
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Secretary of Transportation
Secretary of Energy
Secretary of Education
Secretary of Veterans' Affairs
Secretary of Homeland Security

The President's Cabinet

While not specifically mentioned in the Constitution, the president's cabinet is based on Article II, Section 2, which states in part, "he [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…"

The president's cabinet is composed of the heads, or "secretaries" of the 15 executive branch agencies under the direct control of the president. The secretaries are appointed by the president and must be confirmed by a simple majority vote of the Senate.

Other Quick Study Guides:
The Legislative Branch
The Legislative Process
The Judicial Branch

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Your Citation
Longley, Robert. "The Executive Branch of US Goverment." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Longley, Robert. (2021, February 16). The Executive Branch of US Goverment. Retrieved from Longley, Robert. "The Executive Branch of US Goverment." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 21, 2023).

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