What exactly does a president do?


I wanted to wait a day for the furor to settle down. Then, the “dog ate my homework” explanation came out and I know that’s not happening. Keeping with my promise, today’s post is totally fact-based. I’m just going to relate what exactly does a president do.

In combing references from the Constitution of the United States to Scholastic (education for minors), there seems to be pretty good agreement on what exactly a president does. Let me offer a condensed view:


In the Constitution (Article II), this is the very first item listed after describing how a president is elected and his terms of office.

This power refers not only to the national armed forces of the U.S., but also the state militias, as circumstances may warrant. This is a power necessary to the president’s responsibility to protect and secure the safety of the American people.

The power to obtain opinions and information from the Cabinet

These are the departments within the Executive Branch that fall under the management of the president.

There are fifteen departments in the Cabinet:

– Agriculture

– Commerce

– Defense

– Education

– Energy

– Health and Human Services

– Homeland Security

– Housing and Urban Development

– Interior

– Justice

– Labor

– Transportation

– Treasury

– Veterans Affairs

Obviously, not all of these were in existence when the Constitution was first written.

Has the right to grant pardons and reprieves

For any offenses against the U.S., except in cases of impeachment.

There is much debate whether this applies to the president himself. There has yet to be a decisive ruling about whether a president can grant a pardon to himself for his own crimes.

The right to make treaties

A large part of a president’s responsibility on the world stage is to engage in diplomatic efforts to better the world for all people.

This includes both the American people and other parties with whom we deal. Both economically and militarily.

The Constitution limits this power, however, by requiring any negotiated treaty to be approved by 2/3 of the Senate. Thus, no president can unilaterally make a deal with any country without some oversight.

Can appoint ambassadors, federal judges and Supreme Court judges

A powerful responsibility that can inflect the direction of the country as deemed appropriate by the current president, these appointments are also subject to the approval of the Senate.

Recent changes of the Senate rules allow the approval to be by simple majority, rather than a previously proscribed 60%.

Must report to Congress the state of the union

In recent times, this has taken the form of an annual meeting with a joint session of Congress (Senate and House of Representatives) each January.

Receives foreign ambassadors and other public officials

This generally falls under the description of “diplomacy”. Meeting with world leaders is also included in this responsibility.

Responsible for enforcing the nation’s laws

The Department of Justice is one of the Cabinet departments under the Executive Branch. This serves as the primary enforcement arm for the President. The Department of Treasury also has enforcement agents.

Along with this, the president can also sign into law legislation presented to him by Congress or veto those same bills. Congress has the ability to override a presidential veto by a 2/3 vote in both chambers.

These are the simple Constitutional powers of the president. It answers what exactly does a president do. It does not answer how he should do it.

Since George Washington, there have also been unwritten beliefs about how a president represents the will of the people.

However, there is nothing in the Constitution that requires the president to be “nice” or “polite”. So, that an argument can be made that such behavior by a president puts at risk the safety and security of the American people is often one of judgment.

Factual evidence, though, of malfeasance on the part of a president can be used in the process of impeachment, the only current Constitutionally stated method for removing a president from office.

Those stipulations refer to either treason, bribery or high crimes and misdemeanors. If that becomes the case, the House of Representatives, by simple majority, votes on “articles of impeachment”. Then, the Senate, by 2/3 majority, decides whether to convict.

Those are your facts about what exactly does a president do. How you evaluate the performance of any one president has nothing to do with any previous one. Just as judging you by others is not a fair comparison.

The only factual way to judge a president’s performance is by comparing it to the duties as proscribed by the Constitution. Anything else is tinged by personal political bias.

How is the current resident of the Oval Office doing? Ah, that’s where it becomes hard. Is he strengthening America and making us safer? Then yes, he’s doing his job. Are his actions endangering us and making us less secure? Then he is not.

Funny how facts don’t always give us the answers. It still comes down to subjective interpretation.

Or does it? We’ll surely find out once the investigation run by the president’s Justice Department runs its full course.

2 Responses to “What exactly does a president do?”

  1. Steve

    Great factual post.

    However for someone born in 2017 or later, the answer may well change to:
    Lie, collude, obstruct, profit, watch Fox, and Tweet.

    • JMD

      There’s no question that once you put a morality standard on the presidency or even an aspirational one, then evaluations of presidential performance become more splintered.

      Obviously, my preferences have been long-stated. Others, however, who view my blog have varying degrees of differences with me.

      Time, as ever, will be the judge of all presidents.


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