Nobody said being president would be easy. U.S. President Joe Biden leads the planet’s strongest superpower. He commands massive armies and can tap huge financial resources with the stroke of a pen. Yet in the 6 months since he’s taken office, other people in the U.S. government have kept saying no to him.
For example, The U.S. Supreme Court denied President Joe Biden’s bid to rescind an immigration policy implemented by his predecessor, Donald Trump, that forced thousands of asylum seekers to stay in Mexico awaiting U.S. hearings.
Biden isn’t the only president who has struggled with the limits of his power. Every American leader going back to George Washington (in office 1789-1797) has as well. That’s just how the Framers of the U.S. Constitution planned it. They organized the federal government so that none of its three branches—the executive branch (headed by the president), the legislative branch (Congress), and the judicial branch (the courts)—would be more powerful than the others.
Another thing unites our presidents: Almost all of them found that the duties of the office were much harder to fulfill than they expected. Indeed, many experts have called the presidency “an impossible job.”
Most of the president’s basic tasks are outlined by Article II of the U.S. Constitution. Otherswere created by acts of Congress or through tradition. All together, they form a position of great authority—and enormous responsibility. Here’s a look at the seven main roles thatmake up the tough job of our nation’s highest elected official.
Chief of the Executive Branch
The president’s main job is to oversee the federal government. Think of him as the bossof one of the world’s biggest companies. (TheU.S. government has nearly 3 millionemployees!)
To help keep this organization running smoothly, each president chooses a group of senior advisers called a Cabinet. They supervise government departments including Defense (which oversees the armed forces) and Education. George Washington’s first Cabinet consisted of just four people. Modern presidents’ Cabinets are much larger. Today, President Biden has 24 advisers—including the directors of Homeland Security and the Central Intelligence Agency.
As the head of the executive branch, the president must also carry out the nation’s laws. Although laws are passed by Congress, the president decides which ones are most
important to enforce—and how to do so. The president also appoints federal judges and nominates people for open seats on the U.S. Supreme Court. The president’s choices for both judges and Cabinet members must be approved by the U.S. Senate.
Guardian of the Economy
The president shares responsibility for the economy with Congress. But as the nation’s chief executive, he is expected to help it run smoothly—and as fairly for all Americans as possible. Overseeing the economy includes many factors, such as trying to keep the unemployment rate down and aiding businesses. Every year, the president proposes a budget for the country. This determines how much money each part of the government, such as the military, will get to operate. Congress adds its own priorities—and sometimes changes the president’s suggested budget completely. The final budget must be passed by Congress and signed by the president.
Head of State
As the head of state, the president acts as the highest living symbol of our country. When he welcomes Super Bowl champions or hosts an official dinner at the White House, he is representing the nation. Americans look to their president for inspiration, especially when he engages with foreign leaders. His actions are expected to represent the nation’s highest ideals and commitment to democracy.
Political Party Leader
The president serves as the leader of his political party and plays a key role in shaping its positions on important issues. He helps raise money for the party and campaigns for members who have supported his policies and are running for office. Experts say that Barack Obama (2009-2017) reshaped the Democratic Party during his presidency. Under Obama’s direction, the party became much bolder in its support of rights for minorities and undocumented immigrants.
Head of Foreign Policy
Another crucial presidential task is maintaining America’s role as a world leader. A president has to decide what the nation’s relationships with other governments will belike. His goals and actions—including meeting with foreign leaders, often in toughnegotiations—make up his foreign policy. Chief among President Trump’s foreign policy aims is convincing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (below left) to give up his nuclear weapons. Presidents also appoint ambassadors who represent the U.S. to foreign nations.
The president has the sole power to negotiate treaties—formal agreements with othercountries. Treaties serve important functions, such as ending wars or promoting trade. Before such agreements can take effect, however, they have to be ratified by the Senate.
Commander in Chief
The Constitution divides the power to make war between the president and Congress. Only Congress can actually declare war on another country. But the Constitution names the president as commander in chief of the nation’s armed forces.
That means the president makes major decisions on where and when troops will be deployed, who will lead them, and how the U.S. will use its weapons. The president also has what experts call the “awesome responsibility” of deciding whether to bomb a foreign country. Harry S. Truman (1945-1953) had to make that choice when he ordered atomic bombs to be dropped on two Japanese cities, the action that ended World War II (1939-1945).
Only Congress has the power to make laws. But presidents have several ways to influence legislation. As a bill works its way through Congress, the president will call members of the Senate and the House of Representatives to urge them to vote for or against it. He will also invite members of Congress to the White House to discuss a proposed bill.
Presidents have another tool when it comes to new laws passed by Congress: They canveto (reject) legislation that they don’t like. Congress can override the president’s veto by a two-thirds vote of both the House and the Senate.
- The tallest president in history, Abraham Lincoln, liked to wear a 7-inch top hat tomake himself stand out. He also used it for stashing important notes.
- Long before he became head of state, George W. Bush was head cheerleader athis high school. He was also a cheerleader at Yale University.
- Someone once sent 30th President Calvin Coolidge a raccoon for Thanks giving dinner. Instead of eating it, Coolidge kept the raccoon as a White House pet.
By Bryan Brown