Since 1789, when George Washington became our first president, Americans have been electing or re-electing the president and vice president every four years.
The year leading up to the election is a busy one as the two largest political parties, the Democrats and Republicans, campaign across the country to win votes. First, politicians compete within their own parties to be their party’s nominee. Potential candidates schedule rallies, “town hall” discussions, and competitive debates that allow them to talk about the campaign issues they believe will resonate with voters. They also raise the funding needed to finance these campaign events, as well as pay for travel expenses and media ads.
The “primaries” and caucuses begin in January and are scheduled at regular intervals until about June. Primary elections are an opportunity for voters within specific states to choose the candidate they would support in the general election. “Super Tuesday” is the primary election in which the most states participate and often determines the nominee for each party. As in the general election, the candidate that wins the most votes is awarded that state’s electoral votes (# of House Reps + 2 Senate reps).
Sometime in June or July, each party schedules a national convention where they formally announce their nominee for President. The candidate then chooses a vice president as well as “talking points” that focus their campaign efforts on particular issues such as global warming or healthcare reform.
The election is on the first Tuesday in November, and a new or re-elected president takes office at noon on January 20.
The duties and powers of the President, the Vice President, and the President’s Cabinet are outlined in Article II of the Constitution
Balance of Power
As a lawmaker, the President has the authority to approve the laws created by Congress. When the President receives a bill or resolution that both chambers of Congress have voted favorably on, he can either sign it into law or veto it. Though Congress could override a presidential veto with a 2/3 vote, more often the new legislation is reworked until it is approved by both Congress and the President.
The President relies on advice from the members of his Cabinet that have jurisdiction over specific parts of the federal government, such as the Secretary of Homeland Security, the head of the cabinet-level office created in response to 9/11.
In addition to these close advisors, the president has the power to appoint a new Justice to the Supreme Court in the event that a vacancy occurs during his time in office. He also chooses federal judges and ambassadors to US embassies around the world. The power to fill these influential positions is kept in check by the Senate. The President’s appointments are subjected to confirmation hearings and a vote.
The First Lady of the United States, organizes social events and welcomes visitors from around the world to the White House. Her role is a busy one as she balances caring for her family with her responsibilities to the President, and to the social initiatives she chooses to work on during her time as First Lady.
The President meets regularly with members of the State Department and various committees within Congress to establish the administration’s foreign policy. He travels to summits and international conferences to talk with other heads-of-state about global concerns and to maintain trade agreements to protect American businesses in other countries.
He invites leaders of other nations to the White House in order to negotiate peace treaties and to maintain professional working relationships with their counterparts in the US government.
The President’ most crucial role, though, is that of Commander-in-Chief of the military. Decisions the president makes as Commander-in-Chief could impact the security of the United States at home, as well as the safety of troops on active duty around the world.
Though only Congress can declare war, the president consults his Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Department of Defense, and the National Security Council to deploy troops and authorize military strikes. In peacetime, servicemen and women protect the shorelines, airways, and infrastructure of the United States while providing aid to other countries.