Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Learn more about what the President does through seven essays with detailed descriptions about the modern presidency. These essays delve into the function, responsibilities, and organization of the presidency and trace the history and evolution of presidential duties.

Being a president is like riding a tiger. You have to keep on riding or be swallowed.
President Harry S. Truman

Domestic Policy

Domestic policy is an umbrella term for a massive, unwieldy set of policy areas comprised of issues ranging from poverty, to environmental protection, to law enforcement, to labor-management relations. In recent years, the field has witnessed high-profile battles over health care insurance, prescription drug coverage, AIDS and stem cell research and development, educational accountability and testing, welfare reform, logging, drilling for oil, affirmative action, gay marriage, transportation safety, homeland security, and the USA Patriot Act.

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Economic Policy

The coordination of economic policy—meaning both domestic and international economic matters—is a challenge that has vexed Presidents for several decades. Over the past twenty years, Presidents have created and used bureaucracies such as the Economic Policy Board, the Economic Policy Council, and the National Economic Council. At the same time, Presidents have relied on the advice of the Council of Economic Advisers, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

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Legislative Affairs

The management of legislative affairs involves building and maintaining the connection between two constitutionally separate entities—the executive and legislative branches—on issues of presidential concern. This work includes supporting presidential legislation, negotiating compromises, threatening vetoes, defeating overrides, winning appropriations, and securing the ratification of treaties and the confirmation of presidential appointees. Legislative affairs is the carrot-and-stick office of the White House.

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National Security

The President is still the center point for national security policy—the decisionmaker. And the old challenge is still present: the multiplicity of agencies whose work must be interwoven—State; Defense; the intelligence community; the United States Information Agency; frequently Justice; and often Treasury, Commerce, Energy, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as well. What have been transformed are, first, the facilities and processes that support presidential decisionmaking; second, the methods contemporary Presidents employ to govern America's national security operations.

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Presidential Politics

As head of his party, the President has obligations to its one national and fifty state organizations, to numerous political action committees, to his financial contributors, and to hundreds of local volunteer groups. He also has reciprocal debts and credits with his party's elected officials. The White House Office of Political Affairs helps the President keep the ledgers and acts as ombudsman for those on the “plus” side. When the President runs for reelection, his real campaign headquarters is in the White House.

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Administration of the Government

The President's powers come from Article II of the Constitution. Some of those powers (e.g., being commander in chief) are quite specific; others, which take their cue from the opening sentence of Article II—“The executive Power shall be vested in a President . . .”—are very broad. The President's authority also derives from his power to remove the politically appointed leadership of those thirty-one departments and agencies at any time; they serve at his pleasure and thus can be expected to follow his policy direction.

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Administration of the White House

Since the advent of the modern presidency under Franklin D. Roosevelt, the size, functions, and organizational complexity of the White House have grown enormously. What was once a small, personal staff to the President has become a large "institutional presidency." Organizing and managing the White House staff are now major challenges, requiring both administrative skill and effective use of staff resources. These topics are further developed in this section on “Administration of the White House.”

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