The president of the United States (POTUS)[B] is the head of state and head of government of the United States of America. The president directs the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces.
In contemporary times, the president is looked upon as one of the world's most powerful political figures as the leader of the only remaining global superpower. The role includes responsibility for the world's most expensive military, which has the second largest nuclear arsenal. The president also leads the nation with the largest economy by nominal GDP. The president possesses significant domestic and international hard and soft power.
Article II of the Constitution establishes the executive branch of the federal government. It vests the executive power of the United States in the president. The power includes the execution and enforcement of federal law, alongside the responsibility of appointing federal executive, diplomatic, regulatory and judicial officers, and concluding treaties with foreign powers with the advice and consent 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 directs the foreign and domestic policies of the United States, and takes an active role in promoting his policy priorities to members of Congress. In addition, as part of the system of checks and balances, Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution gives the president the power to sign or veto federal legislation. The power of the presidency has grown substantially since its formation, as has the power of the federal government as a whole.
Through the Electoral College, registered voters indirectly elect the president and vice president to a four-year term. This is the only federal election in the United States which is not decided by popular vote. Nine vice presidents became president by virtue of a president's intra-term death or resignation.[C]
Article II, Section 1, Clause 5 sets three qualifications for holding the presidency: natural-born U.S. citizenship; at least thirty-five years of age; and residency in the United States for at least fourteen years. The Twenty-second Amendment states that no person who has been elected to two presidential terms may be elected to a third. In all, 44 individuals have served 45 presidencies spanning 57 full four-year terms. Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms, so he is counted twice, as both the 22nd and 24th president.
Donald Trump is the 45th and current president of the United States. He assumed office on January 20, 2017.
In July 1776, during the American Revolutionary War, the Thirteen Colonies, acting jointly through the Second Continental Congress, declared themselves to be 13 independent sovereign states, no longer under British rule. Recognizing the necessity of closely coordinating their efforts against the British, the Continental Congress simultaneously began the process of drafting a constitution that would bind the states together. There were long debates on a number of issues, including representation and voting, and the exact powers to be given the central government. Congress finished work on the Articles of Confederation to establish a perpetual union between the states in November 1777 and sent it to the states for ratification.
Under the Articles, which took effect on March 1, 1781, the Congress of the Confederation was a central political authority without any legislative power. It could make its own resolutions, determinations, and regulations, but not any laws, and could not impose any taxes or enforce local commercial regulations upon its citizens. This institutional design reflected how Americans believed the deposed British system of Crown and Parliament ought to have functioned with respect to the royal dominion: a superintending body for matters that concerned the entire empire. The states were out from under any monarchy and assigned some formerly royal prerogatives (e.g., making war, receiving ambassadors, etc.) to Congress; the remaining prerogatives were lodged within their own respective state governments. The members of Congress elected a president of the United States in Congress Assembled to preside over its deliberation as a neutral discussion moderator. Unrelated to and quite dissimilar from the later office of president of the United States, it was a largely ceremonial position without much influence.
In 1783, the Treaty of Paris secured independence for each of the former colonies. With peace at hand, the states each turned toward their own internal affairs. By 1786, Americans found their continental borders besieged and weak and their respective economies in crises as neighboring states agitated trade rivalries with one another. They witnessed their hard currency pouring into foreign markets to pay for imports, their Mediterranean commerce preyed upon by North African pirates, and their foreign-financed Revolutionary War debts unpaid and accruing interest. Civil and political unrest loomed.
Following the successful resolution of commercial and fishing disputes between Virginia and Maryland at the Mount Vernon Conference in 1785, Virginia called for a trade conference between all the states, set for September 1786 in Annapolis, Maryland, with an aim toward resolving further-reaching interstate commercial antagonisms. When the convention failed for lack of attendance due to suspicions among most of the other states, Alexander Hamilton led the Annapolis delegates in a call for a convention to offer revisions to the Articles, to be held the next spring in Philadelphia. Prospects for the next convention appeared bleak until James Madison and Edmund Randolph succeeded in securing George Washington's attendance to Philadelphia as a delegate for Virginia.
When the Constitutional Convention convened in May 1787, the 12 state delegations in attendance (Rhode Island did not send delegates) brought with them an accumulated experience over a diverse set of institutional arrangements between legislative and executive branches from within their respective state governments. Most states maintained a weak executive without veto or appointment powers, elected annually by the legislature to a single term only, sharing power with an executive council, and countered by a strong legislature. New York offered the greatest exception, having a strong, unitary governor with veto and appointment power elected to a three-year term, and eligible for reelection to an indefinite number of terms thereafter. It was through the closed-door negotiations at Philadelphia that the presidency framed in the U.S. Constitution emerged.
The Presentment Clause requires that any bill passed by Congress must be presented to the president before it can become law. Once the legislation has been presented, the president has three options:
In 1996, Congress attempted to enhance the president's veto power with the Line Item Veto Act. The legislation empowered the president to sign any spending bill into law while simultaneously striking certain spending items within the bill, particularly any new spending, any amount of discretionary spending, or any new limited tax benefit. Congress could then repass that particular item. If the president then vetoed the new legislation, Congress could override the veto by its ordinary means, a two-thirds vote in both houses. In Clinton v. City of New York, 524 U.S. 417 (1998), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled such a legislative alteration of the veto power to be unconstitutional.
The president can also be involved in crafting legislation by suggesting, requesting or even insisting that Congress enact laws he believes are needed. Additionally, he can attempt to shape legislation during the legislative process by exerting influence on individual members of Congress. Presidents possess this power because the Constitution is silent about who can write legislation, but the power is limited because only members of Congress can introduce legislation. Article I, Section 1 of the Constitution, bolstered by Article I, Section 8, puts all lawmaking power in Congress's hands, and Article 1, Section 6, Clause 2 prevents the president (and all other executive branch officers) from simultaneously being a member of Congress.
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 (e.g. Article II, Section 3) or statutorily mandated periodic reports to Congress. These reports may be either written or oral, but today the greatest in importance is given as the oral State of the Union addresses, which often outline 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.
In the 20th century, critics charged that too many legislative and budgetary powers that should have belonged to Congress had slid into the hands of presidents. As the head of the executive branch, presidents control a vast array of agencies that can issue regulations with little oversight from Congress. One critic charged that presidents could appoint a "virtual army of 'czars'—each wholly unaccountable to Congress yet tasked with spearheading major policy efforts for the White House". Presidents have been criticized for making signing statements when signing congressional legislation about how they understand a bill or plan to execute it. This practice has been criticized by the American Bar Association as unconstitutional. Conservative commentator George Will wrote of an "increasingly swollen executive branch" and "the eclipse of Congress".
One of the most important of executive powers is the president's role as commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces. The power to declare war is constitutionally vested in Congress, but the president has ultimate responsibility for the direction and disposition of the military. The exact degree of authority that the Constitution grants to the president as commander-in-chief has been the subject of much debate throughout history, with Congress at various times granting the president wide authority and at others attempting to restrict that authority.
The amount of military detail handled personally by the president in wartime has varied greatly. George Washington, the first U.S. president, firmly established military subordination under civilian authority. In 1794, Washington used his constitutional powers to assemble 12,000 militia to quell the Whiskey Rebellion—a conflict in western Pennsylvania involving armed farmers and distillers who refused to pay an excise tax on spirits. According to historian Joseph Ellis, this was the "first and only time a sitting American president led troops in the field", though James Madison briefly took control of artillery units in defense of Washington, D.C., during the War of 1812. Abraham Lincoln was deeply involved in overall strategy and in day-to-day operations during the American Civil War, 1861–1865; historians have given Lincoln high praise for his strategic sense and his ability to select and encourage commanders such as Ulysses S. Grant.
The present-day operational command of the Armed Forces is delegated to the Department of Defense and is normally exercised through the secretary of defense. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Combatant Commands assist with the operation as outlined in the presidentially approved Unified Command Plan (UCP). The framers of the Constitution took care to limit the president's powers regarding the military; Alexander Hamilton explained this in Federalist No. 69:
The President is to be commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States. ... It would amount to nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the military and naval forces ... while that [the power] of the British king extends to the DECLARING of war and to the RAISING and REGULATING of fleets and armies, all [of] which ... would appertain to the legislature. [Emphasis in the original.]
Pursuant to the War Powers Resolution, Congress must authorize any troop deployments longer than 60 days, although that process relies on triggering mechanisms that have never been employed, rendering it ineffectual. Additionally, Congress provides a check to presidential military power through its control over military spending and regulation. Presidents have historically initiated the process for going to war, but critics have charged that there have been several conflicts in which presidents did not get official declarations, including Theodore Roosevelt's military move into Panama in 1903, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the invasions of Grenada in 1983 and Panama in 1989.
The Constitution also empowers the president to propose and chiefly negotiate agreements between the United States and other countries. Such agreements, upon receiving the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate (by a two-thirds majority vote), become binding with the force of federal law.
The president is head of the executive branch of the federal government and is constitutionally obligated to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed". The executive branch has over four million employees, including the military.
Presidents make numerous executive branch appointments: an incoming president may make up to 6,000 before taking office and 8,000 more while serving. Ambassadors, members of the Cabinet, and other federal officers, are all appointed by a president with the "advice and consent" of a majority of the Senate. When the Senate is in recess for at least ten days, the president may make recess appointments. Recess appointments are temporary and expire at the end of the next session of the Senate.
The power of a president to fire executive officials has long been a contentious political issue. Generally, a president may remove executive officials purely at will. However, Congress can curtail and constrain a president's authority to fire commissioners of independent regulatory agencies and certain inferior executive officers by statute.
To manage the growing federal bureaucracy, presidents have gradually surrounded themselves with many layers of staff, who were eventually organized into the Executive Office of the President of the United States. Within the Executive Office, the president's innermost layer of aides (and their assistants) are located in the White House Office.
To allow the government to act quickly in case of a major domestic or international crisis arising when Congress is not in session, the president is empowered by Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution to call a special session of one or both houses of Congress. Since John Adams first did so in 1797, the president has called the full Congress to convene for a special session on 27 occasions. Harry Truman was the most recent to do so in July 1948 (the so-called "Turnip Day Session"). In addition, prior to ratification of the Twentieth Amendment in 1933, which brought forward the date on which Congress convenes from December to January, newly inaugurated presidents would routinely call the Senate to meet to confirm nominations or ratify treaties. Correspondingly, the president is authorized to adjourn Congress if the House and Senate cannot agree on the time of adjournment; no president has ever had to exercise this administrative power.
The president also possesses the power to manage operations of the federal government through issuing various types of directives, such as presidential proclamation and executive orders. When the president is lawfully exercising one of the constitutionally conferred presidential responsibilities, the scope of this power is broad. Even so, these directives are subject to judicial review by U.S. federal courts, which can find them to be unconstitutional. Moreover, Congress can overturn an executive order through legislation (e.g., Congressional Review Act).
The president has 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 require Senate confirmation before they may take office. 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. Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon a month after taking office. Presidents often grant pardons shortly before leaving office, like when Bill Clinton pardoned Patty Hearst on his last day in office; this is often controversial.
Two doctrines concerning executive power have developed that enable the president to exercise executive power with a degree of autonomy. The first is executive privilege, which allows the president to withhold from disclosure any communications made directly to the president in the performance of executive duties. George Washington first claimed the privilege when Congress requested to see Chief Justice John Jay's notes from an unpopular treaty negotiation with Great Britain. While not enshrined in the Constitution or any other law, Washington's action created the precedent for the privilege. When Nixon tried to use executive privilege as a reason for not turning over subpoenaed evidence to Congress during the Watergate scandal, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683 (1974), that executive privilege did not apply in cases where a president was attempting to avoid criminal prosecution. When Bill Clinton attempted to use executive privilege regarding the Lewinsky scandal, the Supreme Court ruled in Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681 (1997), that the privilege also could not be used in civil suits. These cases established the legal precedent that executive privilege is valid, although the exact extent of the privilege has yet to be clearly defined. Additionally, federal courts have allowed this privilege to radiate outward and protect other executive branch employees, but have weakened that protection for those executive branch communications that do not involve the president.
The state secrets privilege allows the president and the executive branch to withhold information or documents from discovery in legal proceedings if such release would harm national security. Precedent for the privilege arose early in the 19th century when Thomas Jefferson refused to release military documents in the treason trial of Aaron Burr and again in Totten v. United States 92 U.S. 105 (1876), when the Supreme Court dismissed a case brought by a former Union spy. However, the privilege was not formally recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court until United States v. Reynolds 345 U.S. 1 (1953), where it was held to be a common law evidentiary privilege. Before the September 11 attacks, use of the privilege had been rare, but increasing in frequency. Since 2001, the government has asserted the privilege in more cases and at earlier stages of the litigation, thus in some instances causing dismissal of the suits before reaching the merits of the claims, as in the Ninth Circuit's ruling in Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc. Critics of the privilege claim its use has become a tool for the government to cover up illegal or embarrassing government actions.
The degree to which the president personally has sovereign immunity from court cases is contested and has been the subject of several Supreme Court decisions. Nixon v. Fitzgerald (1982) dismissed a civil lawsuit against by-then former president Richard Nixon based on his official actions. Clinton v. Jones (1997) decided that a president has no immunity against civil suits for actions taken before becoming president, and ruled that a sexual harassment suit could proceed without delay, even against a sitting president. The 2019 Mueller Report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election detailed evidence of possible obstruction of justice, but investigators declined to refer Donald Trump for prosecution based on a United States Department of Justice policy against indicting an incumbent president. The report noted that impeachment by Congress was available as a remedy. As of October 2019, a case was pending in the federal courts regarding access to personal tax returns in a criminal case brought against Donald Trump by the New York County District Attorney alleging violations of New York state law.
The president fulfills many ceremonial duties. William Howard Taft started the tradition of throwing out the ceremonial first pitch in 1910 at Griffith Stadium, Washington, D.C., on the Washington Senators's Opening Day. Every president since Taft, except for Jimmy Carter, threw out at least one ceremonial first ball or pitch for Opening Day, the All-Star Game, or the World Series, usually with much fanfare. Every president since Theodore Roosevelt has served as honorary president of the Boy Scouts of America.
Other presidential traditions are associated with American holidays. Rutherford B. Hayes began in 1878 the first White House egg rolling for local children. Beginning in 1947, during the Harry S. Truman administration, every Thanksgiving the president is presented with a live domestic turkey during the annual National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation held at the White House. Since 1989, when the custom of "pardoning" the turkey was formalized by George H. W. Bush, the turkey has been taken to a farm where it will live out the rest of its natural life.
Presidential traditions also involve the president's role as head of government. Many outgoing presidents since James Buchanan traditionally give advice to their successor during the presidential transition. Ronald Reagan and his successors have also left a private message on the desk of the Oval Office on Inauguration Day for the incoming president.
During a state visit by a foreign head of state, the president typically hosts a State Arrival Ceremony held on the South Lawn, a custom begun by John F. Kennedy in 1961. This is followed by a state dinner given by the president which is held in the State Dining Room later in the evening.
The modern presidency holds the president as one of the nation's premier celebrities. Some argue that images of the presidency have a tendency to be manipulated by administration public relations officials as well as by presidents themselves. One critic described the presidency as "propagandized leadership" which has a "mesmerizing power surrounding the office". Administration public relations managers staged carefully crafted photo-ops of smiling presidents with smiling crowds for television cameras. One critic wrote the image of John F. Kennedy was described as carefully framed "in rich detail" which "drew on the power of myth" regarding the incident of PT 109 and wrote that Kennedy understood how to use images to further his presidential ambitions. As a result, some political commentators have opined that American voters have unrealistic expectations of presidents: voters expect a president to "drive the economy, vanquish enemies, lead the free world, comfort tornado victims, heal the national soul and protect borrowers from hidden credit-card fees".
The nation's Founding Fathers expected the Congress—which was the first branch of government described in the Constitution—to be the dominant branch of government; they did not expect a strong executive department. However, presidential power has shifted over time, which has resulted in claims that the modern presidency has become too powerful, unchecked, unbalanced, and "monarchist" in nature. Professor Dana D. Nelson believes presidents over the past thirty years have worked towards "undivided presidential control of the executive branch and its agencies". She criticizes proponents of the unitary executive for expanding "the many existing uncheckable executive powers—such as executive orders, decrees, memorandums, proclamations, national security directives and legislative signing statements—that already allow presidents to enact a good deal of foreign and domestic policy without aid, interference or consent from Congress". Bill Wilson, board member of Americans for Limited Government, opined that the expanded presidency was "the greatest threat ever to individual freedom and democratic rule".
Article II, Section 1, Clause 5 of the Constitution sets three qualifications for holding the presidency. To serve as president, one must:
A person who meets the above qualifications would, however, still be disqualified from holding the office of president under any of the following conditions:
The modern presidential campaign begins before the primary elections, which the two major political parties use to clear the field of candidates before their national nominating conventions, where the most successful candidate is made the party's nominee for president. Typically, the party's presidential candidate chooses a vice presidential nominee, and this choice is rubber-stamped by the convention. The most common previous profession of U.S. presidents is lawyer.
Nominees participate in nationally televised debates, and while the debates are usually restricted to the Democratic and Republican nominees, third party candidates may be invited, such as Ross Perot in the 1992 debates. Nominees campaign across the country to explain their views, convince voters and solicit contributions. Much of the modern electoral process is concerned with winning swing states through frequent visits and mass media advertising drives.
The president is elected indirectly by the voters of each state and the District of Columbia through the Electoral College, a body of electors formed every four years for the sole purpose of electing the president and vice president to concurrent four-year terms. As prescribed by Article II, Section 1, Clause 2, each state is entitled to a number of electors equal to the size of its total delegation in both houses of Congress. Additionally, the Twenty-third Amendment provides that the District of Columbia is entitled to the number it would have if it were a state, but in no case more than that of the least populous state. Currently, all states and the District of Columbia select their electors based on a popular election held on Election Day. In all but two states, the party whose presidential–vice presidential ticket receives a plurality of popular votes in the state has its entire slate of elector nominees chosen as the state's electors. Maine and Nebraska deviate from this winner-take-all practice, awarding two electors to the statewide winner and one to the winner in each congressional district.
On the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, about 6 weeks after the election, the electors convene in their respective state capitals (and in Washington, D.C.) to vote for president and, on a separate ballot, for vice president. They typically vote for the candidates of the party that nominated them. While there is no constitutional mandate or federal law requiring them to do so, the District of Columbia and 30 states have laws requiring that their electors vote for the candidates to whom they are pledged. Following the vote, each state then sends a certified record of their electoral votes to Congress. The votes of the electors are opened and counted during a joint session of Congress, held in the first week of January. If a candidate has received an absolute majority of electoral votes for president (currently 270 of 538), that person is declared the winner. Otherwise, the House of Representatives must meet to elect a president using a contingent election procedure in which representatives, voting by state delegation, with each state casting a single vote, choose between the top electoral vote-getters for president. For a candidate to win, he or she must receive the votes of an absolute majority of states (currently 26 of 50).
There have been two contingent presidential elections in the nation's history. A 73–73 electoral vote tie between Thomas Jefferson and fellow Democratic-Republican Aaron Burr in the election of 1800 necessitated the first. Conducted under the original procedure established by Article II, Section 1, Clause 3 of the Constitution, which stipulates that if two or three persons received a majority vote and an equal vote, the House of Representatives would choose one of them for president; the runner-up would become vice president. On February 17, 1801, Jefferson was elected president on the 36th ballot, and Burr became vice president. Afterward, the system was overhauled through the Twelfth Amendment in time to be used in the 1804 election. A quarter-century later, the choice for president again devolved to the House when no candidate won an absolute majority of electoral votes (131 of 261) in the election of 1824. Under the Twelfth Amendment, the House was required to choose a president from among the top three electoral vote recipients: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, and William H. Crawford. Held February 9, 1825, this second and most recent contingent election resulted in John Quincy Adams being elected president on the first ballot.
Pursuant to the Twentieth Amendment, the four-year term of office for both the president and the vice president begins at noon on January 20. The first presidential and vice presidential terms to begin on this date, known as Inauguration Day, were the second terms of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Vice President John Nance Garner in 1937. Previously, Inauguration Day was on March 4. As a result of the date change, the first term (1933–37) of both men had been shortened by 43 days.
Before executing the powers of the office, a president is required to recite the Presidential Oath of Office, found in Article II, Section 1, Clause 8 of the Constitution. This is the only component in the inauguration ceremony mandated by the Constitution:
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.
Presidents have traditionally placed one hand upon a Bible while taking the oath, and have added "So help me God" to the end of the oath. Although the oath may be administered by any person authorized by law to administer oaths, presidents are traditionally sworn in by the chief justice of the United States.
When the first president, George Washington, announced in his Farewell Address that he was not running for a third term, he established a "two-terms then out" precedent. Precedent became tradition after Thomas Jefferson publicly embraced the principle a decade later during his second term, as did his two immediate successors, James Madison and James Monroe. In spite of the strong two-term tradition, Ulysses S. Grant sought a non-consecutive third term in 1880, as did Theodore Roosevelt in 1912 (though it would have been only his second full term). Both were unsuccessful.
In 1940, after leading the nation through the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt was elected to a third term, breaking the self-imposed precedent. Four years later, with the U.S. engaged in World War II, he was re-elected again despite his declining physical health; he died 82 days into his fourth term on April 12, 1945.
In response to the unprecedented length of Roosevelt's presidency, the Twenty-second Amendment was adopted in 1951. The amendment bars anyone from being elected president more than twice, or once if that person served more than two years (24 months) of another president's four-year term. Harry S. Truman, president when this term limit came into force, was exempted from its limitations, and briefly sought a second full term—to which he would have otherwise been ineligible for election, as he had been president for more than two years of Roosevelt's fourth term—before he withdrew from the 1952 election.
Since the amendment's adoption, five presidents have served two full terms: Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. Both Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush sought a second term but were defeated. Richard Nixon was elected to a second term, but resigned before completing it. Lyndon B. Johnson, having held the presidency for one full term in addition to only 14 months of John F. Kennedy's unexpired term, was eligible for a second full term in 1968, but he withdrew from the Democratic primary. Additionally, Gerald Ford, who served out the last two years and five months of Nixon's second term, sought a full term but was defeated by Jimmy Carter in the 1976 election.
John Whiteclay Chambers II has traced the evolution of the ex-presidency. Until 1958, former presidents had no governmental aid to maintain themselves. Gradually, a small beginning became large, but with the public disaffection with Presidents Johnson and Nixon, some began to question the propriety and the amounts involved. Some ex-presidents were very active, especially in international affairs, most notably Theodore Roosevelt; Herbert Hoover; Richard Nixon; and Jimmy Carter.
Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution allows for the removal of high federal officials, including the president, from office for "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors". Article I, Section 2, Clause 5 authorizes the House of Representatives to serve as a "grand jury" with the power to impeach said officials by a majority vote. Article I, Section 3, Clause 6 authorizes the Senate to serve as a court with the power to remove impeached officials from office, by a two-thirds vote to convict.
Three presidents have been impeached by the House of Representatives: Andrew Johnson in 1868, Bill Clinton in 1998, and Donald Trump in 2019; all three were acquitted by the Senate. Additionally, the House Judiciary Committee conducted an impeachment inquiry against Richard Nixon in 1973–74; however, he resigned from office before the full House voted on the articles of impeachment.
Vacancies and succession in the office of president may arise under several possible circumstances: death, resignation, and removal from office. Deaths have occurred a number of times, a resignation has occurred only once, and removal from office has never occurred.
The Constitution, in Article II, Section 1, Clause 6, stipulates that the vice president takes over the "powers and duties" of the presidency in the event of a president's removal, death, resignation, or inability. Even so, it does not clearly state whether the vice president would become president of the United States or simply act as president in a case of succession. This ambiguity was alleviated in 1967 by Section 1 of the Twenty-fifth Amendment, which unequivocally states that the vice president becomes president upon the removal from office, death, or resignation of the president.
Under Section 3 of the Twenty-fifth Amendment, the president may transfer the presidential powers and duties to the vice president, who then becomes acting president, by transmitting a statement to the Speaker of the House and the president pro tempore of the Senate stating the reasons for the transfer. The president resumes the discharge of the presidential powers and duties upon transmitting, to those two officials, a written declaration stating that resumption. Such a transfer of power has occurred on three occasions: Ronald Reagan to George H. W. Bush once, on July 13, 1985, and George W. Bush to Dick Cheney twice, on June 29, 2002, and on July 21, 2007.
Under Section 4 of the Twenty-fifth Amendment, the vice president, in conjunction with a majority of the Cabinet, may transfer the presidential powers and duties from the president to the vice president by transmitting a written declaration to the Speaker of the House and the president pro tempore of the Senate that the president is incapacitated—unable to discharge their presidential powers and duties. If this occurs, then the vice president will assume the presidential powers and duties as acting president; however, the president can declare that no such inability exists and resume the discharge of the presidential powers and duties. 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.
Article II, Section 1, Clause 6 also authorizes Congress to declare who shall become acting president in the "Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President". The Presidential Succession Act of 1947, (codified as 3 U.S.C. § 19) provides that if both the president and vice president have left office or are both otherwise unavailable to serve during their terms of office, the presidential line of succession follows the order of: Speaker of the House, then, if necessary, the president pro tempore of the Senate, and then if necessary, the eligible heads of federal executive departments who form the president's Cabinet. The Cabinet currently has 15 members, of which the secretary of state is first in line; the other Cabinet secretaries follow in the order in which their department (or the department of which their department is the successor) was created. Those department heads who are constitutionally ineligible to be elected to the presidency are also disqualified from assuming the powers and duties of the presidency through succession. No statutory successor has yet been called upon to act as president.
Political parties have dominated American politics for most of the nation's history. Though the Founding Fathers generally spurned political parties as divisive and disruptive, and their rise had not been anticipated when the U.S. Constitution was drafted in 1787, organized political parties developed in the U.S. in the mid-1790s nonetheless. They evolved from political factions, which began to appear almost immediately after the Federal government came into existence. Those who supported the Washington administration were referred to as "pro-administration" and would eventually form the Federalist Party, while those in opposition joined the emerging Democratic-Republican Party.
Greatly concerned about the very real capacity of political parties to destroy the fragile unity holding the nation together, Washington remained unaffiliated with any political faction or party throughout his eight-year presidency. He was, and remains, the only U.S. president never to be affiliated with a political party. Since George Washington, 43 persons have been sworn into the office of president, and each has been affiliated with a political party at the time of assuming office. The number of presidents per political party (at the time of entry into office) are:
|Republican||19||Chester A. Arthur, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, Calvin Coolidge, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, James A. Garfield, Ulysses S. Grant, Warren G. Harding, Benjamin Harrison, Rutherford B. Hayes, Herbert Hoover, Abraham Lincoln, William McKinley, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Donald Trump|
|Democratic||14||James Buchanan, Jimmy Carter, Grover Cleveland, Bill Clinton, Andrew Jackson, Lyndon B. Johnson, John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama, Franklin Pierce, James K. Polk, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Martin Van Buren, and Woodrow Wilson|
|Democratic-Republican||4||John Quincy Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe|
|Whig||4||Millard Fillmore, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, and John Tyler[D]|
|National Union||1||Andrew Johnson[E]|
The following graphical timeline depicts the progression of the presidents and their political affiliation at the time of assuming office.
Since 2001, the president's annual salary has been $400,000, along with a: $50,000 expense allowance; $100,000 nontaxable travel account, and $19,000 entertainment account. The president's salary is set by Congress, and under Article II, Section 1, Clause 7 of the Constitution, may not be increased or reduced during his or her current term of office.
The White House in Washington, D.C. is the official residence of the president. The site was selected by George Washington, and the cornerstone was laid in 1792. Every president since John Adams (in 1800) has lived there. At various times in U.S. history, it has been known as the "President's Palace", the "President's House", and the "Executive Mansion". Theodore Roosevelt officially gave the White House its current name in 1901. Facilities that are available to the president include access to the White House staff, medical care, recreation, housekeeping, and security services. The federal government pays for state dinners and other official functions, but the president pays for personal, family, and guest dry cleaning and food.
Camp David, officially titled Naval Support Facility Thurmont, a mountain-based military camp in Frederick County, Maryland, is the president's country residence. A place of solitude and tranquility, the site has been used extensively to host foreign dignitaries since the 1940s.
Blair House, located next to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House Complex and Lafayette Park, serves as the president's official guest house and as a secondary residence for the president if needed. Four interconnected, 19th century houses—Blair House, Lee House, and 700 and 704 Jackson Place—with a combined floor space exceeding 70,000 square feet (6,500 m2) comprise the property.
White House, the official residence
Camp David, the official retreat
Blair House, the official guest house
The primary means of long-distance air travel for the president is one of two identical Boeing VC-25 aircraft, which are extensively modified Boeing 747 airliners and are referred to as Air Force One while the president is on board (although any U.S. Air Force aircraft the president is aboard is designated as "Air Force One" for the duration of the flight). In-country trips are typically handled with just one of the two planes, while overseas trips are handled with both, one primary and one backup. The president also has access to smaller Air Force aircraft, most notably the Boeing C-32, which are used when the president must travel to airports that cannot support a jumbo jet. Any civilian aircraft the president is aboard is designated Executive One for the flight.
For short-distance air travel, the president has access to a fleet of U.S. Marine Corps helicopters of varying models, designated Marine One when the president is aboard any particular one in the fleet. Flights are typically handled with as many as five helicopters all flying together and frequently swapping positions as to disguise which helicopter the president is actually aboard to any would-be threats.
For ground travel, the president uses the presidential state car, which is an armored limousine designed to look like a Cadillac sedan, but built on a truck chassis. The U.S. Secret Service operates and maintains the fleet of several limousines. The president also has access to two armored motorcoaches, which are primarily used for touring trips.
The presidential plane, called Air Force One when the president is on board
Marine One helicopter, when the president is aboard
The U.S. Secret Service is charged with protecting the president and the first family. As part of their protection, presidents, first ladies, their children and other immediate family members, and other prominent persons and locations are assigned Secret Service codenames. The use of such names was originally for security purposes and dates to a time when sensitive electronic communications were not routinely encrypted; today, the names simply serve for purposes of brevity, clarity, and tradition.
Under the Former Presidents Act, all living former presidents are granted a pension, an office, and a staff. The pension has increased numerous times with congressional approval. Retired presidents now receive a pension based on the salary of the current administration's cabinet secretaries, which was $199,700 each year in 2012. Former presidents who served in Congress may also collect congressional pensions. The act also provides former presidents with travel funds and franking privileges. Prior to 1997, all former presidents, their spouses, and their children until age 16 were protected by the Secret Service until the president's death. In 1997, Congress passed legislation limiting Secret Service protection to no more than 10 years from the date a president leaves office. On January 10, 2013, President Obama signed legislation reinstating lifetime Secret Service protection for him, George W. Bush, and all subsequent presidents. A spouse who remarries is no longer eligible for Secret Service protection.
Some presidents have had significant careers after leaving office. Prominent examples include William Howard Taft's tenure as Chief Justice of the United States and Herbert Hoover's work on government reorganization after World War II. Grover Cleveland, whose bid for reelection failed in 1888, was elected president again 4 years later in 1892. Two former presidents served in Congress after leaving the White House: John Quincy Adams was elected to the House of Representatives, serving there for 17 years, and Andrew Johnson returned to the Senate in 1875, though he died soon after.
Presidents may use their predecessors as emissaries to deliver private messages to other nations or as official representatives of the United States to state funerals and other important foreign events. Richard Nixon made multiple foreign trips to countries including China and Russia and was lauded as an elder statesman. Jimmy Carter has become a global human rights campaigner, international arbiter, and election monitor, as well as a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Bill Clinton has also worked as an informal ambassador, most recently in the negotiations that led to the release of two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, from North Korea. Clinton has also been active politically since his presidential term ended, working with his wife Hillary on her 2008 and 2016 presidential bids and President Obama on his 2012 reelection campaign.
As of February 2020, there are four living former U.S. presidents. The most recent former president to die was George H. W. Bush (1989–1993), on November 30, 2018. The living former presidents, in order of service, are:
Every president since Herbert Hoover has created a repository known as a presidential library for preserving and making available his papers, records, and other documents and materials. Completed libraries are deeded to and maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); the initial funding for building and equipping each library must come from private, non-federal sources. There are currently thirteen presidential libraries in the NARA system. There are also presidential libraries maintained by state governments and private foundations and Universities of Higher Education, such as the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, which is run by the State of Illinois, the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, which is run by Southern Methodist University, the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, which is run by Texas A&M University, and the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum, which is run by the University of Texas at Austin.
A number of presidents have lived for many years after leaving office, and several of them have personally overseen the building and opening of their own presidential libraries. Some have even made arrangements for their own burial at the site. Several presidential libraries contain the graves of the president they document, including the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood Home in Abilene, Kansas, Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California, and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. These gravesites are open to the general public.
The American Bar Association said President Bush's use of "signing statements", which allow him to sign a bill into law but not enforce certain provisions, disregards the rule of law and the separation of powers. Legal experts discuss the implications.
No clear mechanism or requirement exists today for the president and Congress to consult. The War Powers Resolution of 1973 contains only vague consultation requirements. Instead, it relies on reporting requirements that, if triggered, begin the clock running for Congress to approve the particular armed conflict. By the terms of the 1973 Resolution, however, Congress need not act to disapprove the conflict; the cessation of all hostilities is required in 60 to 90 days merely if Congress fails to act. Many have criticized this aspect of the Resolution as unwise and unconstitutional, and no president in the past 35 years has filed a report "pursuant" to these triggering provisions.
Presidents have sent forces abroad more than 100 times; Congress has declared war only five times: the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish–American War, World War I and World War II.
President Reagan told Congress of the invasion of Grenada two hours after he had ordered the landing. He told Congressional leaders of the bombing of Libya while the aircraft were on their way.
It was not clear whether the White House consulted with Congressional leaders about the military action, or notified them in advance. Thomas S. Foley, the Speaker of the House, said on Tuesday night that he had not been alerted by the Administration.
But not since President Gerald R. Ford granted clemency to former President Richard M. Nixon for possible crimes in Watergate has a Presidential pardon so pointedly raised the issue of whether the President was trying to shield officials for political purposes.
The prosecutor charged that Mr. Weinberger's efforts to hide his notes may have 'forestalled impeachment proceedings against President Reagan' and formed part of a pattern of 'deception and obstruction'. ... In light of President Bush's own misconduct, we are gravely concerned about his decision to pardon others who lied to Congress and obstructed official investigations.
Former president Clinton issued 140 pardons on his last day in office, including several to controversial figures, such as commodities trader Rich, then a fugitive on tax evasion charges. Rich's ex-wife, Denise, contributed $2,000 in 1999 to Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign; $5,000 to a related political action committee; and $450,000 to a fund set up to build the Clinton library.
Use of the state secrets privilege in courts has grown significantly over the last twenty-five years. In the twenty-three years between the decision in Reynolds  and the election of Jimmy Carter, in 1976, there were four reported cases in which the government invoked the privilege. Between 1977 and 2001, there were a total of fifty-one reported cases in which courts ruled on invocation of the privilege. Because reported cases represent only a fraction of the total cases in which the privilege is invoked or implicated, it is unclear precisely how dramatically the use of the privilege has grown. But the increase in reported cases is indicative of greater willingness to assert the privilege than in the past.
Dana D. Nelson's book makes the case that we've had 200+ years of propagandized leadership ...
... back in the 1980s, Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes ran a piece skewering Reagan's policies on the elderly ... But while her voiceover delivered a scathing critique, the video footage was all drawn from carefully-staged photo-ops of Reagan smiling with seniors and addressing large crowds ... Deaver thanked ... Stahl ... for broadcasting all those images of Reagan looking his best.
in rich detail how Kennedy drew on the power of myth as he framed his experience during World War II, when his PT boat was sliced in half by a Japanese ...
Even before Kennedy ran for Congress, he had become fascinated, through his Hollywood acquaintances and visits, with the idea of the image ... (p.54)
Gene Healy argues that because voters expect the president to do everything ... When they inevitably fail to keep their promises, voters swiftly become disillusioned. Yet they never lose their romantic idea that the president should drive the economy, vanquish enemies, lead the free world, comfort tornado victims, heal the national soul and protect borrowers from hidden credit-card fees.
the founding fathers had "scant affection for strong executives" like England's king, and ... Bush White House's claims are rooted in ideas "about the 'divine' right of kings" ... and that certainly did not find their way into our founding documents, the 1776 Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of 1787.
presidents slowly but surely gain more and more power with both the public at large and other political institutions doing nothing to prevent it.
Unchecked and Unbalanced: Presidential Power in a Time of Terror By Frederick A. O. Schwarz Jr. and Aziz Z. Huq (authors)
There is the small, minority-owned firm with deep ties to President Obama's Chicago backers, made eligible by the Federal Reserve to handle potentially lucrative credit deals. "I want to know how these firms are picked and who picked them," Mr. Wilson, the group's president, tells his eager researchers.