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. 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. The Cabinet is an advice-giving group selected by the President, membership of which is determined by both tradition and presidential discretion. Much like the Executive Office of the President, the Cabinet is as important to the President decides; the frequency of cabinet meetings varies from one president to another.
There appears to be a trend to hold fewer cabinet meetings the longer the president remains in office. This is because once the President has achieved his aim of welding his cabinet members into his team to move forward his agenda, usually within the first year, the engendering of team spirit ceases to be an important function of the cabinet, from the President's perspective. To promote bipartisanship, especially during periods of national crisis, (Obama has only one Republican on his Cabinet, Rep.
Ray LaHood of Illinois) Presidents have appointed members of the opposite party to cabinet posts. For these reasons, Presidents usually prefer to seek advice elsewhere and to confine cabinet meetings to general discussions of administration policy. With Obama’s senior advisors in the EXOP having experience in Washington politics, foreign policy, it is likely that he too will be a President preferring to consult his White House Staff instead of his Cabinet. The importance of Cabinet meetings and thus the cabinet as a whole depends on the perspective from which you look at it.
For the President, it is important that he appears collegial and consultive, which is particularly important post- Nixon as the Nixon administration was notorious for it's lack of openness. Therefore, to this extent, cabinet meetings can be hollow in importance, as they become a PR exercise and an opportunity for the President to make some comments that will receive media coverage instead of using the meetings as a productive discussion and exchange of expert advice and opinion.
Having said this, cabinet meetings can be an efficient method by which the president keeps in touch with what is going on in the vast federal bureaucracy, and some presidents have liked to use the time as a forum in which to debate policy. The importance of cabinet meetings to the president varies from administration to administration. Individually, the cabinet members are very important as they are the Heads of Departments and have large spending budgets. However, some are more important than others.
First-tier’ cabinet officers such as The Secretary of State, Defense and Treasury for example are usually more important than 'second-tier' members such as the Secretary for Housing and Development, or Agriculture for example. Obama, possibly more than other president’s may have consulted his Cabinet more than his predecessors, as he wields a more open attitude and many of his cabinet served in the Clinton administration. In Obama’s first year, it is likely that his cabinet would of been of more importance than in following years as he adjusts to the functions of his office and the workings of the extensive federal bureaucracy.
There are several reasons why the president's cabinet can never be of prime importance. Firstly, the Constitution grants "all executive power" to the President. Cabinet members have no direct, constitutional power vested in them. Secondly, there is no doctrine of collective responsibility, unlike the UK, the President is not the "first among equals", and as Professor Anthony King once said: "He doesn't sum up at the end of a meeting; he is the meeting". Thirdly, cabinet members are not like the UK's shadow cabinet in that they are not the President's political rivals.
Fourthly, members of the President's cabinet have loyalties that lie elsewhere also. Although they are appointed by the President and serve only at his pleasure, they have other loyalties to consider; they have a loyalty to Congress, whose votes decide their departmental budgets and whose committees can call them to account in person. They have a loyalty to their own departmental bureaucracy to interest groups with which their department has close ties. Lastly, the relative importance of the cabinet to the president is largely dependent on how highly he values the EXOP as both the cabinet and EXOP provide advisory roles.
In the EXOP, the Cabinet has something of a rival, and a rival with a number of key advantages. While 'first-tier' cabinet members such as the Secretary of Defense, and State, are likely to have frequent meetings with the President, other, 'two-tier' members are not awarded such frequent access. The White House Staff, especially the President's closest advisors such as his Chief of Staff, Deputy Chief of Staff and Communications Director may be a cabinet members first call if he or she wished to talk one-on-one with the President as they are in charge of running the White House Staff.
The Chief of Staff is potentially of more importance than a cabinet member because he or she has a role in deciding who has a meeting in the Oval Office, or a phone call with the President. The Chief of Staff and Senior Policy Advisors to the President, located in the "West Wing" of the White House have access to the President, which put them at a significant advantage over other policy players. In contrast, cabinet officers are physically distant from the Oval Office. The President’s power of appointment of cabinet posts can be used tactically to remove the threat of a strong political opponent.
Hillary Clinton was the strongest rival to Obama in the primaries, and well into the nomination process. It could been seen as a political choice to appoint her as his Secretary of State, reducing her potential ability as a candidate for the next election, or as an inspired choice which was made because of her favorability in the role. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton does have experience in Washington politics having spent two presidential terms as The First Lady. Obama surrounded himself with Washington ‘insiders’ to compensate for his lack of contacts and expert knowledge of how Washington politics functions.