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How the Cabinet Works

        Culture | Elections

Cabinet Meetings
President Barack Obama speaks during a Cabinet meeting at the White House in November 2010.
President Barack Obama speaks during a Cabinet meeting at the White House in November 2010.
Yuri Gripas/Getty Images

The members of the president's Cabinet represent his closest and most trusted advisors on critical foreign and domestic policy matters. While each member is in charge of the day-to-day business of his or her executive department, the president meets regularly with the Cabinet to discuss ongoing strategies to resolve everything from foreign wars to financial crises. President Obama convenes a full Cabinet meeting at least every two months, but emergency Cabinet meetings are also held, such as the Cabinet meeting called by President George W. Bush on Sept. 12, 2001 [sources: WhiteHouse.gov; WhiteHouseMuseum.gov].

The agenda for each Cabinet meeting is developed by the Cabinet Secretary and his or her staff. The Cabinet Secretary is the primary liaison between the White House and the 15 executive departments [source: WhiteHouse.gov]. In preparation for each meeting, the Cabinet Secretary meets with the heads of each executive department and their staffs to identify the issues that merit the attention of the full Cabinet.

Cabinet meetings are held in the Cabinet Room, a small rectangular conference room on the first floor of the White House overlooking the Rose Garden [source: WhiteHouseMuseum.gov]. The Cabinet Room has been in its current location since 1934, when it moved from a second floor space now called the Treaty Room. Before 1869, the current location of the Cabinet Room was home to the White House stables [source: WhiteHouseMuseum.gov]. Insert manure joke here.

The president, vice president and Cabinet members sit around an oval mahogany conference table in leather-bound chairs, each bearing a bronze plate with the name of the department and the date the official took office. The order of the chairs correspond to the date in which each Cabinet position was created, with the Secretary of State seated to the president's right and the secretary of defense to his left [source: WhiteHouse.gov]. Tradition dictates that when a member of the Cabinet leaves his or her post, staff members buy the chair from the government as a parting gift.

Cabinet meetings are private, closed-door sessions. They are also the only time in which the president, vice president and every other executive officer in the line of presidential succession are found in the same room. Even during the State of the Union address, one member of the Cabinet is asked to watch from a second location to protect against a catastrophic accident or attack [source: WhiteHouse.gov]. After the Cabinet meeting is concluded, members of the press are invited in to take photos and to record the president's remarks on the work that was accomplished that day.

For lots more information about the U.S. government and executive authority, explore the related links on the next page.


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