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Who is POTUS?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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The President of the United States (POTUS) is the head of the American state and government, in addition to heading up the executive branch of the United States government. Together with the judicial and legislative branches, the president makes decisions about running the United States. The abbreviation “POTUS” was originally used by the Secret Service to refer to the president, and the term was adopted by the Department of Defense, along with other government agencies, in the 1990s. Most American citizens do not use the term, although many know what it means.

The duties and powers of the POTUS are laid out in Article Two of the United States Constitution, which details how the president will be elected, what he or she can do while in office, and the duties that the he or she is expected to fulfill while elected. The requirements to hold the office include a stipulation that the president must be a natural born American citizen of age 35 or older, although some lawmakers have tried to change these requirements to allow naturalized citizens to run for office as well. A term lasts for four years, and a president may be in office for two terms only. The president can be removed from office through a process called impeachment if he or she commits and act of treason, bribery, or another serious crime.

While in office, the president receives a salary, along with the right to access the White House in addition to other government held facilities and equipment such as specialized aircraft set aside for his or her use. The president's security is handled by the Secret Service, which also provides security to members of the president's family, and the equipment that the President uses. After leaving office, a former President gets a pension and is guarded by the Secret Service for the next 10 years: the last president to receive lifetime Secret Service protection was William Jefferson Clinton, who left office in 2000.

The POTUS is the only nationally elected figure in America and is technically elected by the Electoral College, not individual citizens. Within each state, citizens go to the polls to cast votes for their preferred candidate, and the board of electors for the state meets to affirm those votes. Traditionally, electors agree to vote for the candidate who won their state, although electors historically have been known to cast protest ballots, which are blank. These votes are certified by Congress shortly before the new president takes office.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a America Explained researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By feasting — On Nov 04, 2012

Accepting the position of POTUS means agreeing to the likelihood that you will soon become the most criticized and possibly hated man or woman in the United States. It's sad that this is how it usually turns out, but people need someone to blame, and since the POTUS is in charge of nearly everything, he bears the brunt of their accusations.

He is blamed for everything from wars to terrorist attacks. He takes responsibility for budget cuts and unemployment rates.

Actually, the POTUS himself may have very little to do with any of these things. Sometimes, situations just don't seem to have a solution, and though he may attempt several different measures to fix them, a bad outcome is inevitable.

By StarJo — On Nov 03, 2012

POTUS almost sounds like some sort of virus! Do newscasters ever use this term when referring to the president? If they did, I bet the viewers would be confused.

By strawCake — On Jun 29, 2011

@SZapper - I've never heard this turn of phrase before either and quite frankly I hope it never catches on. It doesn't even sound good and I think our leader deserves a little more respect! What's wrong with simply referring to him as "the president"?

By SZapper — On Jun 28, 2011

I don't think the term POTUS is used very often because I've never heard it! "President of the United States" is kind of a long phrase though so I'm not surprised someone came up with an acronym. Maybe I can popularize this among my friends and neighbors!

By aviva — On Jun 28, 2011

@MsClean - I agree with you that the cost from the American people to protect a former POTUS and their family for lifetime has got to be the number one reason for reducing their protection to only ten years.

I think there's a profound division among the peoples opinion of our past two presidents just in the United States alone. I would think that if any former president needed lifetime protection by the Secret Service, it would be those two.

By MsClean — On Jun 27, 2011

@ellaferris - This is the first time I heard that one. It's very unlikely that Congress will change the ten year protection limit for ex-presidents. I'm sure that's nothing more than what you said, a rumor.

As far as your other acquisition, I'm sure there are multiple reasons why Congress limited protection to our former presidents. And I would imagine at the top of that list would be budget.

By ellafarris — On Jun 27, 2011

I've heard rumors that before the end of the Obama presidency Congress is expected to re-enact the lifetime protection from the Secret Service Act.

I've done a lot of research on it but I can't seem to find any truth behind it. Has anyone else heard anything like that? I can't find any answers as to why Congress reduced our former presidents protection from lifetime to only ten years either.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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