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What Is The President's Cabinet?

Learning About The U.S. Presidency


President Obama Attends A Cabinet Meeting
Pool/Getty Images News/Getty Images
The United States Cabinet (usually referred to as "the Cabinet") is composed of the most senior appointed officers of the executive branch of the federal government. Cabinet officers are nominated by the President and confirmed or rejected by the Senate. There is no explicit definition of the term "Cabinet" in either the United States Code or the Code of Federal Regulations.

Cabinet Authority
Authority for the Cabinet rests with Article Two of the U.S. Constitution, which gives the President the authority to seek external advisors. It states that the President can 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." Congress, in turn, determines the number and scope of executive Departments.

Qualifications For Cabinet Officers
A cabinet officer cannot be a member of Congress or a sitting Governor. From Article One of the U.S. Constitution: "no person holding any office under the United States, shall be a member of either house during his continuance in office." This is why sitting Governors, Senators and members of the House of Representatives must resign before becoming a cabinet officer.

The Emoluments Clause (U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 9, Clause 8) bars any Congress member from holding any executive office that was created by law while s/he was serving in Congress. Parenthetically, the clause also forbids the United States from granting titles of nobility.

Selection of Cabinet Officers
The President nominates cabinet officers, who are presented to the United States Senate for confirmation or rejection on a simple majority vote. If approved, they are sworn in and begin their duties.

Composition of The Cabinet
With the exception of the Attorney General, all cabinet heads are called "Secretary." The modern cabinet includes the Vice President and the heads of 15 executive departments. In addition, five other individuals have cabinet rank.

The Secretary of State is the highest ranking cabinet official; this Secretary is fourth in succession to the Presidency. Cabinet officers are titular heads of the permanent executive agencies of the government:
  • Agriculture
  • Commerce
  • Defense
  • Education
  • Energy
  • Interior
  • Justice
  • Labor
  • Health and Human Services
  • Homeland Security
  • Housing and Urban Development
  • State
  • Transportation
  • Treasury
  • Veterans Affairs

History of The Cabinet
The Presidential Cabinet dates to the first American President, George Washington. He appointed a Cabinet of four people: Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson; Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton; Secretary of War, Henry Knox; and Attorney General, Edmund Randolph. Even today, the big four -- Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of Defense and Attorney General -- are the most important members of the President's Cabinet.

President Franklin Roosevelt acted more through the Executive Office of the President or the National Security Council than the did through the Cabinet. The power of the non-cabinet officers is evident in having additional "cabinet rank" staff, which includes the Vice President, the White House Chief of Staff, the heads of Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Management and Budget, Office of National Drug Control Policy, and the U.S. Trade Representative.

Line of Succession
The Cabinet is an important part of the presidential line of succession, which is the process that determines who may become or act as President of the United States upon the incapacity, death, resignation, or removal from office of a sitting president or a president-elect. The presidential line of succession is enumerated in the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 as amended.

Because of this, it is common practice not to have the entire Cabinet in one location, even for ceremonial occasions like the State of the Union Address. This person is the designated survivor, and they are held at a secure, undisclosed location, ready to take over if the President, Vice President, and the rest of the Cabinet are killed.
  1. Vice President
  2. Speaker of the House of Representatives
  3. President Pro Tempore of the Senate
  4. Secretary of State
  5. Secretary of the Treasury
  6. Secretary of Defense
  7. Attorney General
  8. Secretary of the Interior
  9. Secretary of Agriculture
  10. Secretary of Commerce
  11. Secretary of Labor
  12. Secretary of Health and Human Services
  13. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
  14. Secretary of Transportation
  15. Secretary of Energy
  16. Secretary of Education
  17. Secretary of Veterans Affairs
  18. Secretary of Homeland Security
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