Executive Branch Overview

Article II of the US Constitution establishes the executive branch led by the president of the United States. The executive branch comprises the vice president, cabinet, and other executive departments. Its job is to oversee and maintain government functions while carrying out laws passed by Congress. 

The president is elected to a four-year term. The 22nd Amendment, ratified in 1951 limited the president to two terms. Before this amendment, there was no limit on presidential terms, though most followed the precedent set by Washington and only serve two terms. the only exception to this was Franklin Delano Roosevelt who was elected to four terms as president. 

The president is not elected through a national election; the Constitution created the Electoral College to elect the president. Each state decides how its electoral votes are allocated. In most cases, the candidate who gains the most votes in a state wins all that state’s electoral votes.  

The number of electoral votes each state can cast is determined by the number of representatives the state has, plus its two senators. Each state has at least three electoral votes, while states with a larger population have many more—for example, California has 54 electoral votes. 

To be elected president, a candidate must win more than half of the country’s electoral votes.  There are 538 electoral votes, so the winner must receive at least 270 electoral votes.

The executive branch of the United States government has several powers, including:

  • Power of Enforcement: The executive branch is responsible for enforcing the laws and policies of the federal government. This includes the power to execute and enforce federal laws, such as through the use of federal agencies and departments.
  • Power of Administration: The executive branch is responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the federal government. This includes the power to administer federal programs, to manage federal resources, and to oversee the operations of federal agencies and departments.
  • Power of Appointment: The executive branch has the power to appoint federal officials, such as judges, ambassadors, and executive branch officials. These appointments must be confirmed by the Senate.
  • Power of Veto: The president has the power to veto or sign bills passed by Congress. This power allows the president to reject legislation that they believe is not in the best interest of the country.
  • Power of Executive Orders: The president has the power to issue executive orders, which are directives issued by the president to federal agencies and departments. These orders have the force of law, but they can be challenged in court if they are deemed unconstitutional.
  • Power of Pardons: The president has the power to grant pardons and reprieves for federal offenses, which means they can reduce the sentence or forgive a convicted person.
  • Power of Foreign Relations: The president has the power to make executive agreements with other countries, and to represent the United States in international relations.
  • Power as Commander-in-Chief: The president as the head of the executive branch is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, meaning they have the authority to direct military operations and to deploy troops.

Despite these powers, the Constitution establishes limitations to the powers of the executive branch, such as the requirement for the president to take an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution, the requirement for the President to submit an annual State of the Union address, and the requirement for the President to receive the Senate’s advice and consent for certain appointments and treaties.