What is the Role of the Vice President?
The door to your office in the West Wing of the White House bursts open. Military personnel flood in and secure all the doors and windows. A secret service agent with his gun drawn grabs you by the arm. “Sir, we need to get you to a secure location,” the agent says. “What is going on?” you ask. But there is no time to explain. The secret service agent drags you out of the room by your arm and towards a staircase that leads down to the basement of the White House.
You are escorted into the Situation Room where top military officials are waiting. A four-star general shakes your hand. “Sir we need orders,” he says. You look at him with a furrowed brow. “Why are you asking me? I am only the Vice President,” you respond. The general puts his hand on your shoulder and looks you dead in the eyes. “The President is missing sir, you’re in charge now.”
Understanding Vice President Role
You plop down in the chair at the head of the table. Surrounding you are military advisors from all branches of the government. You decided to accept the role of the office of the Vice President for many reasons. Locating a lost Commander in Chief was not one of them. But then again the duties of the office of the Vice President of the United States are pretty vague. Depending on who is in the role at the time, the office of the Vice President can look very different. Some Vice Presidents had a lot of power and influence. Other holders of the office of the vice president didn’t do anything but twitter their thumbs, talking about Hannibal Hamlin. You disdain that man who served as Abraham Lincoln’s Vice President during the Civil War. He did nothing to support the cause, except sit in upstate Maine with friends and family ignoring that there was a war going on. You wanted the office of the Vice President somewhere in the middle of the two extremes; not too much responsibility, but not useless either. But locating a lost President is more than you bargained for.
How the office of the Vice President Was Created
To be fair you are not the first holder of the office of the Vice President to have responsibility thrust upon him. In fact, for a long time, the person who would occupy the office of the Vice President didn’t even run for the position. The office of the Vice Presidency was created almost as an afterthought. When the Constitution was created the Electoral College members each had one vote to elect the next President of the United States. Because representatives had more trust in politicians from their own state, they would almost always vote for a candidate from where they were from. This led to no one receiving more than one vote, and therefore, no clear victor.
To combat this problem the forefathers decided it was best to give everyone two votes. One vote could be for a representative from your own state, but the other had to be from another state. This led to someone being elected by majority, then whoever had the second most votes became Vice President. You on the other hand are part of the post 12th Amendment era where the candidate for President chooses who will run as his Vice President before the election. The President chose you for your likeability and middle ground stance on almost everything. That’s how you won the election together. Now you kind of wish he had chosen someone else.
Vice president duties
When you agreed to be Vice President you were told about the few specific duties that you were required to carry out. Unfortunately, since the job of the office of the Vice President in the United States Constitution is so vague, there were always going to be unexpected vice president duties required of you. You knew your main responsibility in the office of the Vice President would be to assume the role of Commander in Chief if anything ever happened to the President. But you never thought that would be a likely scenario since the President is always surrounded by secret service and has secure vehicles like Air Force One, Marine One, Golf Cart One, and The Beast while travelling.
As the holder of the office of the Vice President, you too have an armoured limousine and Secret Service protection. You also get to fly on the same aircraft as the President, just not at the same time as him. When you are on the aircraft it is not called Air Force One anymore, instead, the call sign is Air Force Two. The same goes for when you are in a helicopter, the chopper is called Marine Two. It kind of has a nice ring to it.
As you sit in the situation room you realize that even the most important duty of standing in for the President is pretty vague. You can be called upon if the President dies or resigns. These are extreme scenarios. Another situation where the president’s duties can be thrust upon you is if the majority of the President’s Cabinet judges the Commander in Chief to be unable to carry out his duties. You suppose this could happen if the President went rogue, or cracked from all the stress of the office, then you would be called upon to take his place. But again, there is very little precedent for this in American History and seems unlikely.
Vice president role in the senate
You agreed to the nomination of the office of the Vice President more for the job of being President of the Senate than anything else. You studied legislative law in school and found it fascinating. Really your ideal Vice Presidency would be spending your time in the Senate Chambers, voting on bills if there was a tie, opening and closing meetings, the easy stuff. If you were lucky you may even be able to make the deciding vote on Senate bills 31 times. This is the highest number of deciding votes a Vice President has ever made in a term. That record is held by John C. Calhoun, but you would like to beat it and secure your place in VP history.
As the bearer of the office of the Vice President you rarely have to physically be in the Senate chambers to preside over the meeting. There aren’t votes every day, and you don’t really get to do anything unless there is a tie, and even this is rare. So normally Vice Presidents have one of the Junior members of the Senate run the meetings each day. But you want to be a more hands-on Vice President and are always present at the Senate meetings.
Announcing the next president of the United States
One other responsibility that every holder of the office of the vice president has is to receive the tally of electoral ballots from the states and announce the next President and Vice President of the United States of America after an election. Sure this may seem like an insignificant part of the job, but you think it would be pretty cool to announce yourself as being elected as the next Vice President if you win a second term. Or like Thomas Jefferson, you could announce yourself as the new President of the United States if you decide to run for the big seat in the next election.
You tap your fingers on the desk as everyone in the situation room looks at you. A bead of sweat rolls down your temple. You wipe it away with the back of your hand. “Does anyone know the last location of the President?” you ask. The head of the Secret Service stands up, “the last time we had eyes on him he was hitting golf balls down south. We think he was abducted while looking for his ball in a sand trap.” You shake your head. You knew the President was spending too much time on the golf course, and wish he would just stay in the White House and be as excited about legislation as you were. The duties of the President are pretty clearly defined in the constitution. Playing golf is not one of them.
A lot of your duties as the office of the Vice President come from outside the constitution. These duties tend to be at the discretion of the President. In the current administration, you serve as the top advisor to the President. You recommend strategy and laws to be implemented. This suits you just fine, but there are some holders of the office of the Vice president who took their role to a whole new level. In particular someone from the not too distant past. You remember him as the Vice President who shot a 78-year-old Texas Attorney by accident.
The Legend of Dick Cheney
Dick Cheney is arguably one of the most influential and powerful Vice Presidents of all time. It is not often you hear about what the office of the Vice President does. This was the case with Dick Cheney, and it wasn’t until after George W. Bush’s second term came to an end that the public learned more about how much influence Dick Cheney had as the Vice President.
In one of the darkest moments in United State history, Dick Cheney made decisions that could have had immense consequences. It was September 11th, 2001 and the United States was under attack. Al-Qaeda terrorists had taken control of commercial planes. Dick Cheney was in charge of the decision making process at the time. The President was on Air Force One with spotty connection and delayed information. This meant that the office of the Vice President was put in charge since the President could not be relied on to make informed decisions at the time. In official documents, Dick Cheney seems to be responsible for making the decision to shoot down civilian planes if deemed necessary. This was a vitally important decision to be made on that day, one that showed the power the office of the Vice President could wield in extreme circumstances. Luckily those orders did not need to be carried out.
Cheney connections and Influence
Through various connections made as Secretary of Defense under George W. Bush’s father, Cheney had a lot of influence within the government. This allowed him to raise the power of the office of Vice President. He made sure his staff was always in the loop. Whenever the president’s staff received information, Cheney made sure his most trusted advisors were privy to that information. Cheney as Vice President always knew exactly what was going on and what decisions the president was being faced with. It allowed him to influence the decision-making process if he deemed it necessary.
This included the decisions being made to extract information from prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Dick Cheney used his bolstered power as Vice President to push for waterboarding and harsh interrogation methods to extract information. He would never call what he was advocating for torture, but would go on to say “we did those things we needed to do to make certain that we were operating within the statutes and the laws.” Basically, he used his connections in the government and his power of influence to ensure the interrogation methods being used were not viewed as torture and therefore were legal.
You personally have no desire to hold as much power as Dick Cheney did during the Bush administration. You only decided to occupy the office of the Vice President to pass laws and serve as an advisor. Sure if everything went well maybe one day you would become the President of the United States, but you were not betting on that day being right now. You wanted to go down in history as a good Vice President, who did his duty, not as an infamous Vice President who lost his boss.
Can the Vice President resign?
Would it be possible to just quit? You know that two Vice Presidents had done it before. John Calhoun, who you admired for his 31 deciding votes on laws in the Senate had quit. He did not get along with the then-president Andrew Jackson and resigned to take an open Senate seat. Then there was Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon’s vice president. He stepped down after being charged with tax evasion and taking bribes. You are a more moral holder of the office of the Vice President than Agnew, so maybe you didn’t want to be associated with him in any way.
You decide that it’s your duty to see this thing out until the end. You will find the president. If everything turns out okay you may be one of the few Vice Presidents who have received Nobel Prizes. Al Gore was the most recent holder of the office of Vice President to receive the Nobel Prize for his efforts to raise awareness of climate change. Perhaps you could go down in history as one of the greatest VP’s for your role in finding a lost president. That is surely worth a Nobel Prize.
Vice president’s official duties and responsibilities are not fully defined
Suddenly, the phone next to you rings. It is a line dedicated to the president. You pick it up. On the other line is your Commander in Chief. Apparently, the president had one too many Aperol Spritzes while playing golf and passed out in one of the sand traps. The secret service just assumed that his ball had gotten stuck in the sand trap, so we’re waiting for him at the next hole. He was never in any real danger. Crisis averted.
You let out a sigh of relief and lean back in your chair. All of the generals and personnel in the room begin to clap. They liked having your help, but are happy the President is safe. You’re just glad you can go back to your job of overseeing the Senate. You think about how maybe it would be better to have more clear cut and defined roles for the office of the Vice President. But changes in United States politics are slow. The idea of changing the Constitution to be more clear about what the office of the Vice President’s duties seems like a daunting task. You are happy with the way things are and return to your office. You never know what the next day will bring as the Vice President of the United States.