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Article II: The Executive Branch

February 21, 2014 by NCC Staff


Article II of the Constitution establishes the Executive branch of the federal government. It defines the office of President and Vice President, and an Electoral College to elect them. Article II also sets the requirements needed to be President, establishes the President’s powers, and provides for a President’s removal of office for high crimes and misdemeanors, as well as the removal of any civil officer for similar reasons.

The following was prepared by the Office of the Secretary of the Senate with the assistance of the Library of Congress, providing the original text of each clause of the Constitution with an accompanying explanation of its meaning and how that meaning has changed over time. Source: U.S. Senate, Library Of Congress

Article II: The Executive Branch
Article II, Section 1, Clause 1:  Powers and Term of the President
Text Explanation
The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows: This clause provided the title of the chief executive and defined the term of office.  It says nothing about reelection. George Washington established a two-term tradition, which was not broken until Franklin D. Roosevelt won a third and fourth term. The 22nd amendment now limits presidents to two terms.
Article II, Section 1, Clauses 2, 3 and 4:  Election
Text Explanation
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector. The Constitution established an electoral college as a compromise between direct popular election of the president and election by Congress. The method of selecting electors was left to the states.  Electors are now chosen by popular vote.
The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two Persons, of whom one at least shall not be an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted. The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President, if such Number be a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed; and if there be more than one who have such Majority, and have an equal Number of Votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately chuse by Ballot one of them for President; and if no Person have a Majority, then from the five highest on the List the said House shall in like Manner chuse the President. But in chusing the President, the Votes shall be taken by States, the Representatives from each State having one Vote; a quorum for this Purpose shall consist of a Member or Members from two thirds of the States, and a Majority of all the States shall be necessary to a Choice. In every Case, after the Choice of the President, the Person having the greatest Number of Votes of the Electors shall be the Vice President. But if there should remain two or more who have equal Votes, the Senate shall chuse from them by Ballot the Vice-President. This clause was superseded by the 12th amendment, after the election of 1800 in which Thomas Jefferson and his running mate, Aaron Burr, received identical votes and both claimed the office. After many votes, the House of Representatives chose Jefferson, and soon thereafter the amendment was speedily approved.
The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States. Congress has enacted legislation requiring that presidential elections (the selection of electors) occur on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November every four years. Electors gather to vote on the Monday after the second Wednesday in December. The two houses of Congress convene to count the electoral ballots on the following January 6.
Article II, Section 1, Clause 5:   Qualifications
Text Explanation
No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States. This clause requires that in order to take the oath of office a president must be 35, a resident within the United States for 14 years, and a natural-born citizen. This last requirement raises the question of whether someone born to American parents outside of the United States would be eligible to hold the office.
Article II, Section 1, Clause 6:    Presidential Succession
Text Explanation
In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected. The 25th amendment superseded this clause regarding presidential disability, vacancy of the office, and methods of succession.
Article II, Section 1, Clause 7:    Compensation and Emoluments
Text Explanation
The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be encreased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them. To preserve the president's independence, Congress can neither raise nor lower the president's salary during his term.  Nor can a president accept any other pay.
Article II, Section 1, Clause 8:    Oath of Office
Text Explanation
Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:—"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." The Constitution prescribes the oath that presidents must take. By contrast, Congress by statute created the oath taken by other federal officials, including the vice president.
Article II, Section 2:  Powers and Duties of the President
Article II, Section 2, Clause 1:  Commander–in–Chiefship; Presidential Advisers; Pardons
Text Explanation
The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment. As Commander in Chief, the president controls the military forces. Presidents have also cited this power as extending to their control of national and foreign policy in war and peacetime. Congress may not restrain the president's power to pardon, except in impeachment cases.
Article II, Section 2, Clause 2: Treaties, International Agreements,  Appointments and Congressional Regulation of Offices
Text Explanation
He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments. The Constitution gives the Senate a share in foreign policy by requiring Senate consent, by a two-thirds vote, to any treaty before it may go into effect. The president may enter into "executive agreements" with other nations without the Senate's consent, but if these involve more than minor matters they may prove controversial.
The president must also submit judicial and major executive branch nominations to the Senate for its advice and consent. The Constitution makes no provision for the removal of executive officers, which has remained largely at the discretion of the president.
Article II, Section 2, Clause 3: Recess Appointments
Text Explanation
The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session. When the Senate is not in session, and therefore unable to receive nominations, the president may make recess appointments. The Senate will then consider the nomination when it returns to session.
Article II, Section 2, Clause 4: Addressing Congress, Executing Laws, Commissioning Officers
Text Explanation
He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information on the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers; he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States. The duty to deliver to Congress an annual address, known as the State of the Union message, is the basis of the president's legislative leadership. Presidents have frequently summoned Congress into "extra" or "special" sessions, but they have never exercised the power to adjourn Congress. The law enforcement function has been a source of the president's control over the executive branch, however the laws that the president is to execute are the laws that Congress passes, and those laws constrain as well as empower the chief executive.
Article II, Section 2, Clause 5: Impeachment
Text Explanation
The President, Vice President and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors. Impeachment is the ultimate power of Congress to deter and to punish abuse of power by officers of the executive and judicial branches. Federal judges constitute the greater number of impeached and convicted officers. President Andrew Johnson won acquittal by a single vote, and President Richard Nixon resigned before he could be impeached.  President Bill Clinton was impeached by the House and acquitted by the Senate.

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