Ever wonder what life is like for presidents after they leave office? Much like their time in office, retirement days are a considerably mixed bag.
On one hand, the Former Presidents Act and other bits of legislation established some really nice lifetime perks for former presidents. On the other hand, Constitutional amendments and other legislation have created some strict rules that former presidents are not allowed to break.
So, what are the biggest perks and the peskiest rules for former presidents? We’ve got the full breakdown of what happens after every president leaves office.
Permanent Secret Service protection
After leaving office, every president is entitled to lifetime Secret Service protection for themselves and their spouse. And their children can enjoy such protection until the age of 16. This protection is important because ex-presidents are still potential targets of attack. However, former presidents can waive this protection (as Nixon eventually did) at their own discretion.
But even presidents who waive Secret Service protection still get security benefits. If they turn down the Secret Service, they are entitled to yearly funds of up to $1,000,000 for themselves and up to $500,000 for their spouse for security and travel related expenses.
No driving on public roads
While in office, presidents travel in protected motorcades and armored vehicles. After retirement, former presidents who choose to retain Secret Service protection must follow a simple rule. They can drive on their private property, but they can’t get behind the wheel on public roads. Instead, they must let their Secret Service agents (who have extensive training in defensive and evasive driving) drive them.
In 2017, George W. Bush revealed in an interview with Jay Leno that he hadn’t driven himself on a public road in nearly 25 years.
Official communications must be released to the public
The Watergate scandal led to the creation of the Presidential Records Act in 1978. This act stipulates that any official communication from the president in any form must be recorded and archived. It is then available to the public five years after the president leaves office. So, half a decade after a president leaves office, the public may be reading up to eight years of everything they ever wrote.
This includes text messages, not only from the president but also from their aides. President Biden has even implemented “a software program on government-issued cell phones that automatically archives text messages as required by federal law,” according to Politico.
Former president Harry Truman was nearly flat broke after leaving office. This led to the Former Presidents Act of 1958 which guarantees a lifetime annual pension to former presidents. The exact amount gets adjusted for inflation, and it was $219,200 in 2020.
Of course, these days that pension is more of a formality than a necessity. That’s because former presidents tend to take in millions and millions of dollars from speeches, book deals, and other cushy arrangements. Just ask Bill Clinton, who made a cool $75 million simply delivering speeches between 2001 and 2012!
Continued access to security briefings, at current president’s discretion
As president, one of the more tense aspects of the job is the daily security briefing. This helps the president learn about potential security threats to the country each and every day.
If they so choose, former presidents can continue to have access to these daily briefings. But there is one caveat. The sitting president can determine whether a former president has access or not.
For instance, the BBC reports that sitting president Joe Biden declared former president Donald Trump “erratic” and determined he should not receive these intelligence briefings.
Lifetime health insurance, unless…
One of the better perks of federal service is nice health insurance. And while in office, presidents get the absolute best health insurance that taxpayer dollars can buy. But does that continue after they leave office?
The answer is both “yes” and “no.” To get access to lifetime governmental health insurance, a former president must serve at least five years as a federal employee. While this is an easy requirement to meet for most former presidents (who tend to come from federal backgrounds), a one-term president with no additional federal experience would not qualify.
The most recent example of this is Donald Trump. Unless he assumes any other federal positions for at least a year, his four years in office is not enough to grant him lifetime health insurance.
Two-term presidents can never run for VP
Many people express surprise when they learn that former presidents who’ve served two terms cannot later run for vice president. This is one of many reasons why Joe Biden did not choose Barack Obama as a presidential running mate.
But this rule shouldn’t really surprise anyone. Ever since Franklin D. Roosevelt won an unprecedented four terms as president, the 22nd Amendment was ratified to ensure that no president serves more than two terms.
Since the VP becomes president if anything should happen to the sitting president, allowing a former president to become VP would effectively risk giving them a third term. But if a former president only served one term (like Donald Trump), nothing keeps them from running as VP in the future.
There is one final perk of being a former president, though it’s one they won’t be around to see. Every former president is entitled to a state funeral. Such funerals are major ceremonial events, and the military has an extensive document (138 pages, to be precise) that outlines everything from the flower arrangements to how fast the funeral procession can drive.