October 7, 2008
So What Does the VP Do, Anyway?
Senator Biden and Governor Palin famously addressed the constitutional roles of the vice president in last week's debate; the transcript is below (link to the video at c-span.org); analysis by Josh Chafetz at the New Republic here. The exchange gives us an opportunity to explore the role (or roles) of the vice-president under our constitution and to examine Vice-President Cheney's claims of executive privilege (seemingly placing the office within the executive branch) and his claim that the vice-president does not have to comply with an executive order in a dispute with the National Archives (because the office is within the legislative branch). The former claim was at issue in Cheney v. U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia; see especially Part IV of the opinion, starting on page 12. The latter claim is described in this Washington Post article.
Based on these material, how might your students advise Governor Palin and Senator Biden to better answer the question? Here's what they actually said:
IFILL: Governor, you mentioned a moment ago the constitution might give the vice president more power than it has in the past. Do you believe as Vice President Cheney does, that the Executive Branch does not hold complete sway over the office of the vice presidency, that it it is also a member of the Legislative Branch?
PALIN: Well, our founding fathers were very wise there in allowing through the Constitution much flexibility there in the office of the vice president. And we will do what is best for the American people in tapping into that position and ushering in an agenda that is supportive and cooperative with the president's agenda in that position. Yeah, so I do agree with him that we have a lot of flexibility in there, and we'll do what we have to do to administer very appropriately the plans that are needed for this nation. And it is my executive experience that is partly to be attributed to my pick as V.P. with McCain, not only as a governor, but earlier on as a mayor, as an oil and gas regulator, as a business owner. It is those years of experience on an executive level that will be put to good use in the White House also.
IFILL: Vice President Cheney's interpretation of the vice presidency?
BIDEN: Vice President Cheney has been the most dangerous vice president we've had probably in American history. The idea he doesn't realize that Article I of the Constitution defines the role of the vice president of the United States, that's the Executive Branch. He works in the Executive Branch. He should understand that. Everyone should understand that.
And the primary role of the vice president of the United States of America is to support the president of the United States of America, give that president his or her best judgment when sought, and as vice president, to preside over the Senate, only in a time when in fact there's a tie vote. The Constitution is explicit.
The only authority the vice president has from the legislative standpoint is the vote, only when there is a tie vote. He has no authority relative to the Congress. The idea he's part of the Legislative Branch is a bizarre notion invented by Cheney to aggrandize the power of a unitary executive and look where it has gotten us. It has been very dangerous.
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