Patricia A. O'Malley
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Patricia A. O'Malley

Social Policy & Programs Consulting

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What Does the President Do?
Our schools are supposed to teach this, but they don’t want you to know it.

March 22, 2017

Another presidential election has recently passed, and most Americans still don’t know what the president does, and doesn’t do.  Americans should just read the Constitution.  But they won’t.

The requirements and process to be president, and her/his duties, are defined in the Constitution’s Article II.  The president:

  • Holds all executive power.  That means that s/he leads the executive branch of the government and executes the laws.
  • Is the Commander in Chief of the armed forces.
  • May require cabinet officers to submit written reports on topics related to their departments.
  • Can issue reprieves and pardons for federal crimes, except in cases of impeachment.
  • Negotiates treaties, which must then be ratified by the Senate.
  • Appoints ambassadors, cabinet secretaries, federal judges, and other public officials, with the Senate’s consent. 
    S/he may also appoint people to lower-level positions without consent.
  • Signs or vetoes bills sent to her/him by Congress.
  • Reports to Congress on the state of the union “from time to time”.
  • Recommends legislation to Congress.
  • May convene one or both house of Congress “on extraordinary occasions”.
  • Must swear an oath to “…  faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States …” 


  • The president does not make laws.
    For the past few years, some “educators” have been claiming that the president is our “Chief Legislator”.  Some of our schools even teach it.  In a very brief Google search, I found it on 13 websites – some of them otherwise quite reputable. *  They are lying.

  • The president is not any kind of legislator.
    The Constitution says, in Article I, Section 1 – yes folks, the very first sentence:
    All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.
    I tried to find the source of this lie, but I can’t.

  • The president does not spend money.
    U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 9, Clause 7:
    No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.

    The Congressional Budget Act of 1974 requires the President to submit a proposed budget for the executive branch agencies each year.  Congress reviews, debates, and cuts that budget for months before adopting something that barely resembles it.

  • The president does not declare war.
    The Constitution, Article I, Section 8, Clause 11, says that only Congress can declare war.
    The War Powers Resolution of 1973 gives the president limited power to send U.S. troops into armed conflict only under certain circumstances.

  • The president can not send federal disaster aid into a state unless requested by the governor.
    I know about Flint.  And I saw hundreds of people demanding that President Obama intervene.  Unless Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has asked for federal help, President Obama couldn’t send any.  And neither can President Trump.

  • The president can not amend the Constitution.
    Article V defines the amendment process.  The president has no role in it.

  • The president does not have to swear her/his oath on the bible. 
    Or the Constitution, dictionary, phone book, or anything else.

The president is the chief executive officer of the United States, and functions much like a corporate CEO. 

The executive branch executes the laws that Congress enacts and manages the nation's daily business, under the president's direction.  To make that work, Congress established fifteen cabinet departments, with each specializing in one area of national affairs.  A secretary leads each department, and advises the president.  Each department includes many sub-agencies which manage specific areas of their jurisdiction.  

The Bureaucracy
We call those departments and agencies the bureaucracy.  They are the departments of State, Treasury, Defense, Justice, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Energy, Education, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security.

Six more agencies – the Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Management and Budget, U.S. Trade Representative, Mission to the United Nations, Council of Economic Advisors, and Small Business Administration – have cabinet rank.

The Executive Office of the President comprises several additional offices.  Their purpose is to manage White House communications, personnel, administration, the Vice President’s office, legislative affairs, and other matters.  The Presidential Czars are part the EOP.

The term “czar” dates to World War I, but is not the official title for a presidential adviser.  The official title is “Assistant to the President for (whatever) Policy”.  It’s purely a creation of the media.  Every president since Franklin Roosevelt has appointed special advisers. The MEDIA calls them "czars" because the actual job titles are too long for newspaper headlines. 

Executive Actions
The president leads regular cabinet meetings, at which the secretaries report on their departments’ activities and the group discusses policy and management.  The president uses two tools, called executive actions, to give formal instructions to the staff on her/his priorities and how they are to do their jobs.  They are the Presidential Memoranda and Executive Orders.

Legally, they’re pretty similar.  Executive Orders are published in the Federal Register and stored at the National Archives.  Presidential Memoranda don’t have to meet those requirements, and follow a more informal process.  The president can communicate her/his instructions in any manner, but those in writing are more clear, concise, and easily accessible to all concerned.  They must abide by existing law.  They are not laws themselves and can not violate or circumvent any existing laws.  Congress has already authorized the president to do anything contained in any order or memo.
In June 2000, President Bill Clinton instructed every Executive Branch office to develop a website for public use.  

Today, the United States government has just about the largest internet presence on earth. links every individual government site into a single place.  It can connect you with public information in every government office at every level – federal, state, local, and even American Indian tribal governments.  The site includes a search function, a Help page, a Frequently Asked Questions page, an index, and tutorials.  You can even email questions to the managers.  However, I've found that the best way to use it is to spend just a few minutes poking around and getting used to it.

And then there are all of the other things we expect the president to do.  They are the optional, but traditional, activities that always make the news.  The president pardons turkeys, gives awards, cuts ribbons, meets with athletes who win championships, issues proclamations for special events, meets with foreign leaders, holds press conferences, makes speeches to support administration initiatives, campaigns for members of Congress and governors from her/his party, and performs other ceremonial duties.

We expect the president to be an expert in everything the federal government does or oversees.  So s/he must be a diplomat – -war veteran – attorney – park ranger – doctor – social worker – teacher – coal miner – farmer – scholar – astronaut – business owner – bus driver – airline pilot – mail carrier – banker – economist – doctor. 

S/he must also dance well, look good in a suit, have some endearing qualities, and please everyone.
Only Barbie could pull that off.

Oh yeah.  S/he has to fight with Congress to get anything done.
Do you want the job?

*,, C-SPAN, California State University at Sacramento, College Board,, The Pearson School,,,, the Washington Examiner,, the Weekly Standard

For more information:
Read the Constitution
The White House
Meet Your Federal Bureaucracy
Presidential Czars and the U.S. Constitution

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