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The Vice Presidency

The Vice Presidency

What if I told you that you could be suddenly in charge of the most powerful nation on earth and it could all happen within moments? All that needs to happen is for your boss to become incapacitated in some form, be it death, illness or capture. Many Americans view the Vice Presidency (VP) as simply “a heartbeat away” from the real job. But what was the Vice Presidency designed for and what does it actually do? Let’s Explore.

Initially designed to be the “runner-up” in the presidential race, this appointment was changed in the 12th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. While John Adams is known to have effectively used his position as VP to George Washington’s presidency, this role was not to last as the development of separate political parties would eventually lead to the undermining of presidential policies by the VP. Subsequently, with the election of Thomas Jefferson a 12th amendment was made to the constitution allowing for the Presidential Candidates to select their own running mates. While seen mostly as a figurehead position the Vice Presidency does have a very significant legislative role. Also known as President of the Senate, the U.S. VP has tie-breaking power of split votes on the Senate floor. This has never been so prevalent than it has been with VP Mike Pence in his first term.

Although John Adams had a greater total number of tie-breaking votes in his tenure as VP, Pence cast more tie-breaking votes in his first year in office than Mr. Adams in his, perhaps making him one of the most influential legislative VPs the nation has seen in decades. With his 13-total tie-breaking votes the most recent VP with such influence was Schuyler Colfax in 1869-1873 under Ulysses S. Grant. For reference, in his first term as VP Pence voted on matters concerning court appointments, Consumer Protection legislation, and federal funding for planned parenthood. Additionally, for the first time in history the VP was the deciding vote in a cabinet member appointment during the confirmation of The Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

Both Pence and Kamala Harris served in the legislature, Pence in the house of representatives and Harris as a senator and are likely to have intimate knowledge of the workings of the Senate and role of the VP in influencing legislative votes. Tonight’s debate will offer not only a look into how each candidate will support their running mate but may offer a clearer view of how each will use their election to impact legislation.

Till Death Do Us Part

Perhaps more prevalent in the American voter’s mind is that the VP is second in line to the Presidency via Article II Section I Clause 6 of the Constitution. From a historical perspective this clause has been enacted a total of 12 times in American History of which, 8 were for a presidential death, and 1 for a presidential resignation in Nixon. The remaining 3 times were when George H. W. Bush temporarily took over for President Regan and Dick Cheney for George W. Bush twice. With Joe Biden and President Trump being 77 and 74 years of age respectively at the time of taking office, they would be the oldest Presidents in history. A particularly relevant fact when one considers that the SARS-cov-2 (covid-19) virus has been found to have a more devastating effect on elderly persons (CDC, 2019; Agnano et al., 2020). The current Pandemic is likely to be a hotly contested topic in this debate, as Pence was appointed to head the Whitehouse coalition on the Covid-19 response. While President Trump has routinely had polling numbers less than 50%, an article in the NY Times written by Giovanni Russonello noted a CNN poll found 62% of Americans view VP Pence as qualified to serve as President. Meanwhile, a FOX poll found that Americans are split regarding his handling of the Pandemic (Russonello, 2020). Largely, the American public has indicated that they do not know enough about either VP candidate to form an opinion, with one poll showing only 2/5ths of Americans have a strong opinion about either person. While watching the debate tonight, keep in mind the various ways a VP may impact our political landscape of the future. Certainly, with the most gravity, enactment of the succession act is on every American’s mind. However, as VP his or her day to day influence over the Senate legislature may in fact touch our daily lives much more frequently and impactfully than we realize.

The Political Muse,


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