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What Is the President’s Cabinet?

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The President’s Cabinet is composed of the principal appointed officers of departments of the executive branch of the federal government of the United States. The Cabinet meets weekly to advise the President on matters relating to the duties of their respective departments.

The Cabinet traditionally includes the Vice President and the heads of 15 executive departments: Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice (the Attorney General), Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs.

Other officials also hold Cabinet-rank, including the White House Chief of Staff; the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; the Director of the Office of Management and Budget; the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers; the Administrator of the Small Business Administration; and the U.S. Trade Representative.

How are Cabinet members selected? 


Cabinet officers are nominated by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate by a majority vote. Each official receives the title Secretary, except the Attorney General who leads the Department of Justice. Cabinet members serve at the pleasure of the President and may be dismissed at any time. Tradition holds that Cabinet Secretaries resign when a new President takes office.

The President may select potential candidates from any walk of American life — business, education, the military, or those already in government service. The Ineligibility Clause of the U.S. Constitution, however, states “no person holding any office under the United States, shall be a member of either House during his continuance in office.” This prevents any sitting Member of Congress from serving in the Cabinet unless he or she resigns from Congress.

What is the history of the Cabinet?

The history of the Cabinet extends to the first U.S. President, George Washington, who called meetings of the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of War, and the Attorney General to advise him on issues. James Madison described these meetings as “the president’s cabinet” and the nickname stuck. The U.S. Constitution, however, does not mention the Cabinet, but several provisions refer to “principal officers” of the “executive departments.”

The Constitution in Article II, Section 2, authorizes the President to “appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls […].” In addition, the President “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[.]” Taken together, these provisions give the President the necessary authority to appoint executive department officials and compel their advice on important policy matters.

What is the order of presidential succession?

The Cabinet is crucial to the presidential line of succession that determines the order in which officials succeed to the presidency following the death or resignation of the President. The Vice President tops the order, followed by the Speaker of the House, then the President pro tempore of the Senate. The Cabinet officers succeed to the presidency in the following order:

  • Secretary of State, Department of State

  • Secretary of the Treasury, Department of the Treasury

  • Secretary of Defense, Department of Defense

  • Attorney General, Department of Justice

  • Secretary of the Interior, Department of the Interior

  • Secretary of Agriculture, Department of Agriculture

  • Secretary of Commerce, Department of Commerce

  • Secretary of Labor, Department of Labor

  • Secretary of Health & Human Services, Department of Health and Human Services

  • Secretary of Housing & Development, Department of Housing and Urban Development

  • Secretary of Transportation, Department of Transportation

  • Secretary of Energy, Department of Energy

  • Secretary of Education, Department of Education

  • Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Department of Veterans Affairs

  • Secretary of Homeland Security, Department of Homeland Security

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