executive branch

If your history teacher did their job well, then you probably already know that there are three main branches of the United States government, right? You may even know that the executive branch is the one that the President is pretty much the head honcho of. But when it comes to who else belongs to it and what exactly the executive branch does, things may get a little foggier. Fear not if you find this to be the case because you’ve come to the right place to get the lowdown.

Who is part of the executive branch?

When you think of the executive branch, the President is the first guy that probably comes to mind. But the branch isn’t just made up of the POTUS alone. It also includes the vice president, the heads of 15 executive departments (who collectively make up the president’s cabinet), and the heads of numerous executive agencies like the CIA and EPA. The executive branch also consists of over 50 independent federal commissions and the Executive Office of President or EOP.

Where are their powers specified?

Though the president is indeed the top boss of the executive branch, the founders were pretty adamant that he shouldn’t have too much power in government as a whole. In fact, the original Constitution didn’t really say much about the executive branch at all. This may have been due to the fact that the founders had no interest in creating a king-like figure, given that they had just fought really hard to escape the rule of an overbearing one. The executive branch’s power wasn’t really formalized until Article 2 was ratified several years later, in 1787.

The president’s constitutional powers

When it comes to the president’s duties, the Constitution grants him the right to do several things. First of all, he gets to either approve or deny any of the bright ideas that manage to make their way through both houses of Congress. If he too is on board with Congress’ proposed legislation, he can sign it and turn it into official law. If, however, he isn’t really down with a particular idea, then he has the power to veto it and send it back to the drawing board. That said, even if the president does give a piece of legislation a big fat veto, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s officially sunk. Congress can still override him and shove it on through, but only if they manage to get a two-thirds vote in both houses.

Another big part of the president’s job involves foreign affairs. He’s sort of the “face of America” throughout the rest of the world or he can appoint ambassadors and diplomats to represent us on his behalf. He’s also able to negotiate and sign treaties, but only if two-thirds of the Senate ratify whatever deals he works out.

The president is also the go-to guy when it comes to appointing federal judges, most notably to the Supreme Court.  There’s also the perk of his being able to pardon anyone that’s been convicted of a federal crime if he feels the need, with the exception being cases of impeachment.

The ace up the president’s sleeve

Among his biggest superpowers, however, is the ability to issue what’s called an executive order. Given that almost every president in history has issued at least one, they seem to be a pretty handy card for any POTUS to be able to play. Within an executive order, the president pretty much gets to interpret existing laws and direct how they’re carried out. That said, he does have to back himself up legally because issuing an executive order doesn’t mean it won’t be subject to review. Should one turn out to be not exactly legally legit, the federal courts can always shoot them down. Some executive orders, like Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, have worked out beautifully. Others, such as FDR’s internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, have been far less fortunate.