Study Notes

Vice President (election, role)

AQA, Edexcel, OCR

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

John Adams, the first Vice President declared that the role of the Vice President was “The most insignificant office that man has ever imagined”. It is not hard to see why this was the case, historically Vice Presidents were simply around to succeed the President should the worst happen. They were also the people who came second in a Presidential race. It would be difficult to imagine Mitt Romney serving as Barack Obama’s Vice President! Since then the role has moved on from its early incarnation and is now seen as a Great Office of State.

Election of the Vice President:

The Vice President is elected alongside the President in a joint ticket system. A joint ticket system is where the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates stand on the same platform to get elected. In modern politics, Presidential candidates strive for a balanced ticket. Balance on a ticket can be achieved in a number of ways be it in the form of experience, ideology, age or region. If you look at the last few Presidential Elections, you can see how they have a balanced ticket.

With the 2016 Presidential Election coming up, it is worth looking at the candidates and seeing how they could balance any future ticket. Are race and gender now important as well? Will the Republicans pick a Hispanic Vice Presidential candidate or will the Democrats choose a male Vice Presidential candidate if Hilary Clinton wins the nomination?

Constitutional Powers of the Vice President:

  • Presiding Officer of the Senate – Although this is a constitutional power, Vice President’s seldom preside over the Senate and mainly vote to break Senate Deadlocks. The 107th Congress (2001-2003) was deadlocked at 50/50, so Dick Cheney was used to give the Republicans a majority.
  • Announces Electoral College Votes – After Presidential elections in front of the combined Houses of Congress, the Vice President announces the results. This has meant that four Vice Presidents have announced their own succession to the Presidency, but that some Vice Presidents have had to announce their own defeats, notably Al Gore in 2001 to George W Bush.
  • First in the Line of Succession – Should the President die, be impeached or otherwise removed from office, the powers of the Presidency pass to the Vice President. The first Vice President to become President this way was John Tyler the 10th President.
  • Acting President – In addition to succession, should the President be incapacitated for a short amount of time the Vice President may assume the role of Acting President. This has typically been for medical procedures, such as George W Bush being sedated for a colonoscopy.

Increasing Powers of the Vice President

Ever since Eisenhower was President, the Office of Vice President has become a ‘breeding ground’ for future Presidents. As a result many distinguished politicians battle for the role.

Presidents now typically give more responsibility to their Vice Presidents and some become advisors directly to the President. Vice Presidents now see daily intelligence briefings and all have an office in the West Wing.

They are increasingly seen as a major spokesperson for the administration. Al Gore was a spokesperson for the Clinton Administration on the Environment and Dick Cheney was one for the Bush Administration on foreign policy.

In addition to this the Vice President is a major fundraiser and can be used to generate campaign money for the President or the party.

Finally, the Vice President can play the ‘Washington Insider’. In this role, they guide a President who perhaps has never been elected to Congress, who may have served as a State Governor previously. Dick Cheney is a fantastic example of this. George W Bush was a one term Governor from Texas where as Dick Cheney has worked all over Washington.

Cheney as Vice President

Dick Cheney was Vice President to George W Bush, as is regarded as the most powerful Vice President in history. He has a portfolio that contained the ‘Iron issues’ in US Politics including:

  • Economic Issues
  • Security Issues
  • Energy Issues
  • Party Caucus

Biden as Vice President

Joe Biden has served as Vice President to Barack Obama and when compared directly to his predecessor Cheney he is relatively less powerful. Biden has a focus on Foreign Policy in the Obama administration, but he also plays the Washington Insider Role. Barack Obama was a relatively inexperienced Senator when he decided to run for the Presidency, whereas Joe Biden was a long history in Washington. He severed extensively on the Senate Judiciary Committee and spent a total of 36 years as a Senator.

Further Reading & Study [List of Presidents, First Ladies, and Vice Presidents]

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