John Nance Garner, the 32nd Vice President of the United States, once summed up the office of the Vice President as being “not worth a bucket of warm piss.” But if you were asked about the duties of the Vice President, could you name them? Here is a video of Republican Vice President candidate Sarah Palin responding to the question of a third-grader — “What does the Vice President do?”
“A Vice President has a really great job because not only are they there to support the President’s agenda, they’re, like, the team member — the team mate — to that President, but also they’re in charge of the United States Senate. So if they want to, they can really get in there with the Senators, and make a lot of good policy changes that will make life better for Brandon, and his family, and his classroom. And it’s a great job, and I look forward to having that job.”
This hands-on approach to the Senate is getting some people on the left upset, as reported on the completely impartial and non-biased *snicker* news organ, CNN:
The comments have drawn criticism from Democrats and liberal blogs which note the actual role of the vice president when it comes to the Senate is simply to cast a tie-breaking vote in the event of a stalemate. According to Article I of the U.S. Constitution, the vice president is the “President” of the Senate, but has no executive position when it comes to presiding over the chamber.
Donald Ritchie, a historian in the Senate Historical Office, told CNN that Palin’s comment was an “overstatement” of what her role would be.
“The vice president is the ceremonial officer of the Senate and has certain ceremonial functions including swearing in new senators and can vote to break a tie,” he said. “It’s a relatively limited role. It’s evolved into a neutral presiding officer of the Senate.
Ritchie also noted recent vice presidents have played a behind-the-scenes lobbying role on Capitol Hill for an administration’s policies, but called it “somewhat limited.”
Let’s read exactly what the Constitution says on the role of the Vice President, as it relates to the Senate:
The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.
That’s it. Notice how the article does acknowledge that the VP is the President of the Senate, but does so by putting it in quotes, like the VP isn’t really President, the VP is only “President.” (Free tip for Alexander Mooney and other aspiring journalists: scare quotes have no place in a serious news story. You’re welcome.) Anyway, the learned opinion of Mooney continues: “but has no executive position when it comes to presiding over the chamber” as if that were actually stated in the Constitution itself. But as you can see, it isn’t.
The VP is free to be as hands-on or hands-off the Senate’s day-to-day activities as he or she desires. The only official responsibility a VP has is to cast the tie-breaking vote, but what stops the VP from mingling with the Senators and persuading them to vote one way or other? The only thing that would stop the VP from doing that is the VP. Did you notice that historian Donald Ritchie admitted as much in his above quote, about how recent VPs have played a “behind-the-scenes lobbying role on Capitol Hill for an administration’s policies”? I see that as being exactly what Palin is talking about when she said a VP could really “get in there with the Senators.” And interestingly enough, she isn’t the only person who claims that power.
The same article quotes the Democrat Vice President candidate, Joe Biden, as saying pretty much the same thing as Palin: “I hope one of my roles as vice president will be as the person actually implementing Barack Obama’s policy. You gotta get the Congress to go along with it.” And how exactly do you get the Congress to do that? Well, you could try to “really get in there” with them.
Palin says it, and CNN responds that she is misstating the role of Vice President. I can envision them murmuring, “Dumb ol’ Sarah.” But Biden makes a similar statement, and there is no sanctimonious head-shaking at his comment over at CNN. That’s why I have to laugh every time I think of CNN’s claim to be impartial and non-biased in their reporting.
Frankly, if I were given the choice between a CNN interview or a bucket of warm piss, I’d take the bucket.