Vice President

Garret Hobart. Theodore Roosevelt. Alben Barkley. George H.W. Bush. Joseph Biden. Thomas Jefferson. Levi Morton. 

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    What do these people have in common? They were all vice presidents of the United States. Some you’ve probably never heard of, and others are prominent names in the halls of American history. The vice president may seem like the second most powerful person in government, but in reality vice presidents act as assistants to the president. Throughout most of American history, the vice president has had very little influence and a somewhat vague job description. So just what exactly does the vice president do? This article will explore the role and powers of the office of vice president.

    Vice President Role

    The vice president is part of the executive branch. The only constitutionally defined role of the Vice President of the United States is to serve as president of the Senate. The vice president cannot vote unless there is a tie.

    The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided. Article 1, Section 3 Clause 4

    The vice president also formally presides over the counting and receiving of the presidential electoral college ballots.

    Electoral College: The process by which the United States elects the president. The number of electoral ballots each state receives is calculated by adding each state's number of representatives and senators.

    Vice President, Seal of the Vice President, StudySmarterFig. 1 Seal of the Vice President Wikimedia Commons

    Vice President Powers

    The Vice President of the United States doesn’t have any formal powers apart from the responsibility of presiding over the Senate. Few vice presidents exercise that duty unless they are needed to break a tie for the benefit of their party. Traditionally, the main job of vice presidents seemed to be waiting. They waited in case there was a tragedy, and they had to replace the president. The vice president is a heartbeat away from being the most powerful person in the government, but often they are the least consequential.

    The main power that the vice president wields is the power to succeed the president in case they are debilitated or die. Article II states that in case of presidential removal, death, resignation, or disability, that the responsibilities of the vice president shall, “devolve on the vice president.” On that occasion, the vice president is sworn in as president. This has happened eight times during our nation’s history:

    • John Tyler

    • Millard Fillmore

    • Andrew Johnson

    • Chester Arthur

    • Theodore Roosevelt

    • Calvin Coolidge

    • Harry Truman

    • Lyndon Johnson

    Gerald Ford assumed the presidency after the resignation of Richard Nixon. John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Van Buran, Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush, and Joseph Biden were all vice presidents who later became president.

    Succession

    The 25th Amendment, which was ratified in 1967, and the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 outline the order of succession if the president is unable to perform their duties. The order of succession is as follows:

    1. Vice President

    2. Speaker of the House

    3. President Pro Tempore of the Senate

    4. Secretary of State

    5. Secretary of the Treasury

    6. Secretary of Defense

    7. Attorney General

    8. Secretary of the Interior

    9. Secretary of Agriculture

    10. Secretary of Commerce

    11. Secretary of Labor

    12. Secretary of Health and Human Services

    13. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

    14. Secretary of Transportation

    15. Secretary of Energy

    16. Secretary of Education

    17. Secretary of Veterans Affairs

    18. Secretary of Homeland Security

    President and Vice President

    Other than the constitutionally defined powers, the influence of the vice president is determined by the president. Some presidents want their vice presidents to take on more of a leadership role. Others maintain a cool relationship with vice presidents, and they are mostly pushed to the side.

    Most modern presidents choose their vice president to balance the ticket. In other words, the vice president offers something different from the president. For example, President Barack Obama selected Joe Biden to be his running mate. Obama lacked extensive foreign policy experience. Biden was an experienced Senator with years of foreign policy experience under his belt.

    Other presidential candidates may select vice presidents who live in a different geographic area or appeal to a different kind of voter within the party. Modern presidents have chosen vice presidents with extensive political experience and who are potential presidential candidates themselves.

    Vice President Responsibilities

    The responsibilities of the vice president are to preside over the Senate, assist the president, stand in for the president at events that the president cannot attend, and formally receive and preside over the counting of the presidential electoral votes.

    Vice presidents have historically not been satisfied with the position. In 1932, Franklin Roosevelt's vice president, John Nance Garner, famously said that the office of vice president,

    “wasn't worth a bucket of warm spit.”

    Since the 1970s, vice presidents have taken on more responsibilities as presidents have involved them more in policy conversations and diplomatic action.

    Vice President Election

    The 12th Amendment to the Constitution modified the way that the president and vice president were chosen. Before the ratification of the 12th Amendment, the candidate who received the most electors was elected president and the runner-up was vice-president. This caused problems when the two men were from different political parties. It created contention and gridlock. The 12th Amendment allows for political parties to nominate their president and vice president as a team to be chosen on the same ticket.

    The Electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and all persons voted for as Vice-President and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate;

    The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted" 12th Amendment, U.S. Constitution

    The 12th Amendment also specifies what will happen if there is a tie in the electoral college. Should that occasion arise, The House of Representatives will decide the president. This amendment extends the qualifications of the president to vice president candidates as well. Any candidate for vice president must be 35 years-old, be a natural-born citizen, and have lived in the country for 14 years.

    Although there are no formal requirements to run for vice president, most vice presidents have extensive experience in public service and politics.

    Vice President, Kamala Harris, StudySmarterFig. 2, Vice President Kamala Harris, Wikimedia Commons

    All vice presidents have been men until the recent election of Vice President Kamala Harris. Harris was chosen as President Biden’s running mate and is the first female and the first Black and Asian vice president. The first vice president of color was Charles Curtis, Herbert Hoover’s vice president, and a member of the Kaw Nation.

    Vice President - Key takeaways

    • The Vice President of the United States doesn’t have any constitutional defined powers besides the responsibility of presiding over the U.S Senate.

    • The responsibilities of the vice president are to preside over the U.S. Senate and vote in case of a tie, assist the president, stand in for the president at events that the president cannot attend, and formally receive and preside over the counting of the presidential electoral votes.

    • The 12th Amendment allows for political parties to nominate their president and vice president as a team to be chosen on the same ticket.

    • Any candidate for vice president must be 35 years-old, be a natural-born citizen, and have lived in the country for 14 years.

    • Other than the constitutionally defined powers, the influence of the vice president is determined by the president.


    References

    1. https://constitution.congress.gov/browse/article-1/section-3/#:~:text=Clause%204%20President,unless%20they%20be%20equally%20divided.
    2. https://www.senate.gov/about/officers-staff/vice-president/vice-presidents.htm
    3. https://briscoecenter.org/about/news/john-nance-garner-on-the-vice-presidency-in-search-of-the-proverbial-bucket/
    4. https://www.annenbergclassroom.org/12th-amendment/
    5. Fig. 1, Seal of the Vice President of the United States (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seal_of_the_Vice_President_of_the_United_States) by lpankonin (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Ipankonin) licensed by Public Domain
    6. Fig. 2, Kamala Harris (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kamala_Harris) by Lawrence Jackson (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Jackson_(photographer) licensed by Public Domain
    Frequently Asked Questions about Vice President

    What does VP mean in politics?

    VP stands for Vice President in politics. 

    What power does the vice president have?

    The only constitutionally defined power that the vice president has is to preside over the senate and vote in case there is a tie. 

    What is the role of the vice president?

    The responsibilities of the vice president are to preside over the U.S. Senate and vote in case there is a tie, assist the president, stand in for the president at events that the president cannot attend, and formally receive and preside over the counting of the presidential electoral votes. The vice president is first in line of succession to the presidency. 

    What are the duties and responsibilities of a vice president?

    The responsibilities of the vice president are to preside over the U.S. Senate and vote in case there is a tie, assist the president, stand in for the president at events that the president cannot attend, and formally receive and preside over the counting of the presidential electoral votes.

    Has a vice president ever been elected president?

    15 vice presidents have gone on to be president. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Who presides over the senate?

    When does the vice president vote in the senate?

    What branch of the government is the vice president in?

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