George Washington presided over the first Presidential Cabinet Meeting in 1791. At that time, the Cabinet consisted of only 4 members. Thomas Jefferson was Secretary of State, Alexander Hamilton was Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Knox was Secretary of War, and Edmund Randolph was Attorney General. After more than 200 years, these four cabinet positions are still the most high profile in politics today.
Article II Section II of the Constitution provides the authority, as it allows the President to seek written opinions from his Cabinet Members, in their areas of expertise. The Constitution does not dictate which departments, or how many departments should exist. Potential appointees are nominated by the President, and must subsequently be confirmed in the Senate, by a simple majority vote. In most cases, Cabinet Member's tenure ends, when the President who appointed them leaves office.
As mentioned above, the first Cabinet consisted of only 4 members. Today, the President's Cabinet includes the Vice President and 15 Executive Department Heads. There are 5 other individuals, from administrators to ambassadors and staff members, who also hold cabinet rank. Any person who is a sitting Governor, or a member of Congress, must resign that position before becoming a Cabinet Member. They are not permitted to hold both positions at the same time. Cabinet Members answer only to the President. The Secretary of State is the highest ranking Cabinet Official.
One unique feature of the President's Cabinet is the fact that it determines the line of succession, in the event the President is no longer able to serve. The line of succession is mentioned in Article II Section I, and the 25th Amendment to the Constitution.
If President Obama were unable to perform his duties for any reason, his successor would come from the following list:
- Joe Biden – Vice President
- John Boehner – Speaker of the House
- Patrick Leahy – President Pro Tempore of the Senate
- John Kerry – Secretary of State
- Jack Lew - Secretary of the Treasury
- Chuck Hagel - Secretary of Defense
- Eric Holder – Attorney General
- Ken Salazar – Secretary of the Interior
- Tom Vilsack – Secretary of Agriculture
- Rebecca Blank – Acting Secretary of Commerce
- Seth Harris – Acting Secretary of Labor
- Kathleen Sebelius – Secretary HHS
- Shaun Donovan – Secretary HUD
- Ray LaHood – Secretary of Transportation
- Steve Chu – Secretary of Energy
- Arne Duncan – Secretary of Education
- Eric Shinseki – Secretary of Veterans Affairs
- Janet Napolitano – Secretary of Homeland Security
If any person on this list is unqualified to hold the office of the President, that person would be passed over, and the next eligible person would fill the role. In the event of a large gathering, such as a Presidential Inauguration or State of the Union Address, a designated survivor is chosen. This person does not attend the event, but is instead secreted in a safe location, in case of a mass casualty incident.