The President of the United States (POTUS /ˈpoʊtəs/ POH-təs)[note 2] 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 the world's most powerful political figure and as the leader of the only current global superpower. The role includes responsibility for the world's most expensive military that 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 One of the United States Constitution gives the president the power to sign or veto federal legislation. Since the office of president was established in 1789, its power has grown substantially, as has the power of the federal government as a whole.
Through the Electoral College, the 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.[note 3]
The Twenty-second Amendment precludes any United States citizen from being elected president for a third term. It also prohibits a 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. In all, 44 individuals have served 45 presidencies (counting Grover Cleveland's two non-consecutive terms separately) spanning 57 full four-year terms.
|President of the
United States of America
since January 20, 2017
|Executive branch of the U.S. Government
Executive Office of the President
|Status||Head of State
Head of Government
Domestic Policy Council
National Economic Council
National Security Council
|Appointer||Electoral College of the United States|
|Term length||Four years, renewable once (Amendment XXII)|
|Constituting instrument||United States Constitution|
|Inaugural holder||George Washington|
|Formation||March 4, 1789|
|Salary||$400,000 annually[note 1]|
During the American Revolution in 1776, the Thirteen Colonies, acting through the Second Continental Congress, declared political independence from Great Britain. The new states were independent of each other as nation states and recognized the necessity of closely coordinating their efforts against the British. Congress desired to avoid anything that remotely resembled a monarchy and negotiated the Articles of Confederation to establish an alliance between the states. Under the Articles, Congress was a central 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 states agreed to a resolution that settled competing western land claims. The Articles took effect on March 1, 1781, when Maryland became the final state to ratify them.
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.
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.
One of the most important of all 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 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 president is the 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 members of 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.
Additionally, the president 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 his constitutionally conferred 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 though 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 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. Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon a month after taking office. Bill Clinton pardoned Patty Hearst on his last day in office, as is often done just before the end of a second presidential term, but not without controversy.
Historically, 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 Richard 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 President 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 Constitution's Ineligibility Clause prevents the president (and all other executive officers) from simultaneously being a member of Congress. 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 or statutorily mandated, periodic reports to Congress. These reports may be either written or oral, but today the greatest in importance are 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".
According to Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution, the president may convene either or both houses of Congress. If both houses cannot agree on a date of adjournment, the president may appoint a date for Congress to adjourn. For example, Franklin Delano Roosevelt convened a special session of Congress immediately after the December 7, 1941, Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor and asked for a declaration of war.
As head of state, the president can fulfill traditions established by previous presidents. 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' 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.
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.
Four ruffles and flourishes and 'Hail to the Chief' (long version)
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. Critic 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". Activist Bill Wilson 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 the following qualifications for holding the presidency:
A person who meets the above qualifications is still 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. A number of electors, collectively known as the Electoral College, officially select the president. On Election Day, voters in each of the states and the District of Columbia cast ballots for these electors. Each state is allocated a number of electors, equal to the size of its combined delegation in both Houses of Congress. Generally, the ticket that wins the most votes in a state wins all of that state's electoral votes and thus has its slate of electors chosen to vote in the Electoral College.
The winning slate of electors meet at its state's capital on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, about six weeks after the election, to vote. They then send a record of that vote to Congress. The vote of the electors is opened by the sitting vice president—acting in that role's capacity as President of the Senate—and read aloud to a joint session of the incoming Congress, which was elected at the same time as the president.
Pursuant to the Twentieth Amendment, the president's term of office begins at noon on January 20 of the year following the election. This date, known as Inauguration Day, marks the beginning of the four-year terms of both the president and the vice president. Before executing the powers of the office, a president is constitutionally required to take the presidential oath:
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 palmed 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, except when vice presidents have succeeded to the presidency due to a president's death or resignation.
The term of office for the president is four years. As the first president, George Washington set an unofficial precedent by serving only two terms. Prior to Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ulysses S. Grant and Theodore Roosevelt both unsuccessfully sought a third term. In 1940, FDR was elected to a third term after being "drafted" by his party. In 1941, the United States entered World War II, which led voters to elect Roosevelt to a fourth term in 1944 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 inelegible for election to, 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 withdrew from 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.
Succession to or vacancies in the office of president may arise under several possible circumstances: death, resignation, and removal from office. Deaths have occurred a number of times, resignation has occurred only once, and removal from office has never occurred.
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 gives the House of Representatives the power to impeach such officials by a majority vote. Article I, Section 3, Clause 6 gives the Senate the power to remove impeached officials from office, given a two-thirds vote to convict. The House has thus far impeached two presidents: Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998. Neither was convicted by the Senate. Johnson was acquitted by just one vote and Clinton by 17 votes.
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. This transfer of power may occur for any reason the president considers appropriate; in 2002 and again in 2007, President George W. Bush briefly transferred presidential authority to Vice President Dick Cheney. In both cases, this was done to accommodate a medical procedure that required Bush to be sedated; both times, Bush returned to duty later the same day.
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 unable to discharge the 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.
The United States Constitution mentions the resignation of the president, but does not regulate its form or the conditions for its validity. Pursuant to federal law, the only valid evidence of the president's resignation is a written instrument to that effect, signed by the president and delivered to the office of the Secretary of State. This has only occurred once, when Richard Nixon delivered a letter to Henry Kissinger to that effect.
Section 1 of the Twenty-fifth Amendment states that the vice president becomes president upon the removal from office, death, or resignation of the preceding president. The Presidential Succession Act of 1947 provides that if the offices of president and vice president are each either vacant or are held by a disabled person, the next officer in the presidential line of succession, the Speaker of the House, becomes acting president. The line then extends to the President pro tempore of the Senate, followed by every member of the Cabinet. The constitutionality of having congressional officials in the line of succession has been questioned. A person must fulfill all eligibility requirements of the office of president to be eligible to become acting president; ineligible individuals are skipped.
Throughout most of its history, politics of the United States have been dominated by political parties. Political parties had not been anticipated when the U.S. Constitution was drafted in 1787, nor did they exist at the time of the first presidential election in 1788–1789. Organized political parties developed in the U.S. in the mid–1790s, but political factions, from which organized parties evolved, 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 are:
|Date established||Salary||Salary in 2016
|September 24, 1789||$25,000||$702,755|
|March 3, 1873||$50,000||$1,032,868|
|March 4, 1909||$75,000||$2,045,483|
|January 19, 1949||$100,000||$1,008,433|
|January 20, 1969||$200,000||$1,307,940|
|January 20, 2001||$400,000||$542,082|
Since 2001, the president has earned a $400,000 annual salary, along with a $50,000 annual expense account, a $100,000 nontaxable travel account, and $19,000 for entertainment. The most recent raise in salary was approved by Congress and President Bill Clinton in 1999 and went into effect in 2001.
The White House in Washington, D.C. serves as the official residence of the president. Facilities that are available to the president include access to the White House staff, medical care, recreation, housekeeping, and security services. The government pays for state dinners and other official functions, but the president pays for personal, family, and guest dry cleaning and food; the high food bill often amazes new residents. Camp David, officially titled Naval Support Facility Thurmont, is a mountain-based military camp in Frederick County, Maryland, used as a country retreat and for high alert protection of the president and guests. Blair House, located next to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House Complex and Lafayette Park, is a complex of four connected townhouses exceeding 70,000 square feet (6,500 m2) of floor space that serves as the president's official guest house and as a secondary residence for the president if needed.
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 US 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 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 four 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 seventeen years, and Andrew Johnson returned to the Senate in 1875. John Tyler served in the provisional Congress of the Confederate States during the Civil War and was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives, but died before that body first met.
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.
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.
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 only represent 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.
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.
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 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.