The vice president has no power – re-published 4 October 2016

Vp_seal "The formal powers and role of the vice president are limited by the Constitution to becoming president should the president become unable to serve (e.g. due to the death, resignation, or medical impairment of the president) and acting as the presiding officer of the United States Senate. As President of the Senate, the vice president has two primary duties: to cast a vote in the event of a senate deadlock and to preside over and certify the official vote count of the U.S. Electoral College." Wiki below.


There is no power inherent in the office of vice president of the United States other than those enumerated above.



Unless the president gives the vice president functional power by executive order (as GW Bush did with Cheney) the holder of this office has no real significance in American government other than as successor to the president. 

Bush '43 gave Cheney a lot of power, effectively making him a kind of co-president.  This was never intended by the framers.   Some vice-presidents have spent little time in Washington during their incumbency, finding better things to do.  Harry Truman famously had not been told of the existence of the Manhattan Project before FDR's easily anticipated death.  Roosevelt evidently did not think that he had a need to know. 

The lawyers can inform as to whether the executive orders through which Cheney was endowed with so much power will automatically lapse wen he and "W" leave office.

Whether they do or not, the next president will have to decide if he wants to cede so much authority to someone who may or may not have the same agenda as he.  The creation of the Cheney premiership gave Cheney a sense of himself that most presidents will not want to see.  When Cheney shot his hunting companion, he did not bother to inform the president for a couple of days in spite of the media problem that this incident was certain to cause.

Both Joe Biden and Sarah Palin are people with strong opinions.   Will the next president want a semi-independent actor on the scene in his administration?

The president needs the help?  No.  The government does not need an alternative locus of power in the executive branch.  pl

2016 – Addendum.  This post was first published in September, 2008.  IMO it should be remembered that the VP is not the president's deputy.  He/she/it is separately elected.  so far as I know they could be of different parties.  pl

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31 Responses to The vice president has no power – re-published 4 October 2016

  1. Nicholas Weaver says:

    However, there is at LEAST a 1 in 5 chance that the VP for a President McCain would matter (looking at mortality statistics), and probably closer to a 1 in 3 chance when you include the possibility of long-term dissability.
    The odds are less with Obama, but still nontrivial.
    Thus there is a nontrivial chance that the job IS worth more than a bucket of warm piss, and the VP choice matters.

  2. J says:

    which begs the question — do we really need a president? a vice president is not a ‘necessity’. and historically the office of president has caused our nation and citizenry more grief than good.
    which begs the question — why do we still have the office of president and vice president? especially since it could be argued that neither the office of the president or the vice president are ‘necessary’ for the governing of the republic.

  3. TomB says:

    Col. Lang wrote:
    “The lawyers can inform as to whether the executive orders through which Cheney was endowed with so much power will automatically lapse when he and “W” leave office.”
    Colonel, I don’t know whether Mr. Bush signed any “formal,” written “executive orders” giving Mr. Cheney this or that power and indeed would be a little surprised if same was extensive as I don’t suspect it would have been necessary in the main. In other words, the President, I think, can just let it be known that “to the extent of my authority regarding issue X, same is to be handled by person Y,” and as a bureaucratic matter that’s that if he or she wants it that way. (And is foolish enough to indeed leave it that way.)
    Makes sense. Presidents can take their advice from who they want, rightfully I think. And if they are so dumb as to informally entrust their powers so absolutely to others, so long as the the public still holds the President ultimately responsible, what’s wrong with that?
    Might even cheer you as it brings to mind another Colonel in fact; Wilson’s Colonel House. (Although I seem to recall that House never actually made Colonel and just unilaterally promoted himself somewhere down the line.)
    Nevertheless, the rub in all this, of course, is with that “responsibility” part. Funny how such little rubs can become such great sucking ulcers….

  4. hotrod says:

    Cheney was originally set up, as best as I can tell, as sort of a Super Chief of Staff, while Andrew Card was kind of a glorified appointments secretary.
    That strikes me as unwise under any circumstances, but to even sort of make it work, it would require staffing, organization, and careful monitoring by POTUS\POTUS staff to make sure that everyone was on the same page. That didn’t happen. I haven’t bothered to look at it in any kind of systematic way, but there are any number of stories about the interagency process being ignored, or Cheney freelancing, or Addington et al simply rewriting already made decisions to meet his (perceived) marching orders. It will take time to sort out, but I think this is likely to be, by far, the single greatest dysfunction of the Bush administration.
    Though the “understanding” POTUS and the VP had has apparently never been formally unwound, Cheney’s influence has waned, with the dismissal of Rumsfeld and Card, ascension of Bolton and Gates, a general moderating of policy, and a number of other changes. Although it came too late to restore credibility, the Bush administration functions much better than it used to. I don’t think anyone else will be eager to set up a model similar to Bush-Cheney.
    We’ll go back to the way it was – the VP goes to funerals, takes briefs and knows what’s going on (just in case), and maybe works a few special projects. That’s it.
    To that end – I’m indifferent to the Biden pick, and kind of like the Palin pick. Biden is a wonk and, apparently, a horse’s ***. That’s fine. Palin is a developing talent, who’s not as fully developed in every area as a guy like Biden is. That’s fine too.
    I suppose that, given how the narrative has unfolded over the last few years about what the VP should be, that McCain took something of a risk in picking her. Part of the Gore campaign was what an important VP he was. But the “ready on day one” thing, though a very real issue, seems overblown if it’s used to rule out developing talents.
    Some of the criticism of the Palin pick is legit, e.g. Jon Alter’s piece at Newsweek seems valid, though I don’t really agree. But the deranged histrionics of Andrew Sullivan (he’s absolutley flipped out – I refuse to link) and a few others are ignorant of history and what the job of VP really should entail.

  5. JohnH says:

    The good news is that Palin is no Dick Cheney. The VP’s office will no longer be the locus of special ops. But her incredible lightness does afford McCain the same protection against impeachment that Cheney gave Bush, assuming of course that the Democrats ever had enough internal fortitude to exercise their constitutional prerogatives…

  6. Patrick Lang says:

    I believe it to be the case that Bush signed a large number of executive orders investing Cheny with powers that by statute only the president would otherwise have. pl

  7. Ormolov says:

    This is an issue in real time. Cheney is currently doing his best to restart the Cold War with our allies in Europe right now before he heads off to former-Soviet Georgia with nothing but trouble on his mind.
    As a Hollywood screenwriter, this is how the end of his trip goes:
    –The Vice President of the U.S. has gone missing! Kidnapped by S. Ossetian separatists?
    –Russia claims to have no knowledge of the whereabouts of Cheney.
    –Cheney appears in a hostage video looking battered but heroic.
    –The fight is on.
    I originally wrote it that Cheney was assassinated, but he had a whole bunch of notes about that. This way, he gets rescued from the Kremlin (moments before it explodes) by a contingent of Alabama National Guard and doesn’t have to go into hiding for the remainder of his life.
    He’s usually pretty good about sticking to the script, although he is really one of the great improvisers. He can weave narratives together better than Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos.
    We thought we’d have our October Surprise in September this year.

  8. Fran says:

    Of course, if one reads Article II of the Constitution, it becomes manifestly clear that the Office of the President has morphed far beyond its constitutional description. The power of federal offices is, to an enormous extent, a matter of legislative and public expectations. Great power has been ceded to the president via these routes, arguably even more than has been ceded through formal legislation.
    The VP office is similarly malleable over time. It has grown into something far more than it was in the 19th and early 20th centuries. There may be an effort to trim it back–entirely appropriate in the post-Cheney era–but it is not going to be returned to the minimalist position implied in the Constitution, any more than the Presidency will be.

  9. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    By happenstance, I researched this issue a year or so ago.
    Executive Order 13292 opened the door that allowed, essentially, war making powers to flow into the VP’s office, thus giving rise to the imperial vice presidency. It was signed just a few days after the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
    Executive order 13292 is a rewrite of executive order 12958, which was originally signed by President Clinton.
    It is an amazing piece of writing, if examined closely.
    On 6/29/07, I wrote a letter to the Nation magazine that details this change, which surprisingly, it published. The letter was in response to an article by Aziz Huq titled “Cheney and The Constitution”.
    If interested you can read the letter at the following link. It is the second letter down. Takes only a minute or two to read:

  10. fnord says:

    A question from a foreigner: Are these executive orders appliccable only to the presidency in question? Do they function as temporary measures, or does the next president have to actively revoke them?

  11. TomB says:

    Col. Lang wrote:
    “I believe it to be the case that Bush signed a large number of executive orders investing Cheny with powers that by statute only the president would otherwise have.”
    Yeah, he’d probably esp. want to do it with that kind for sure, as Sidney’s letter to the Nation pointed out regarding the declassifying of documents. (Although of course whatever order he gives in writing he can give orally, unless a statute otherwise required.)
    (I think Sidney’s letter also reflects the practical and very possibly only answer to the issue about whether one Exec. Order survives its maker in that … whatever, new Presidents can just amend or revoke the old ones of this sort, which they do all the time.)
    An on reflection I guess, considering how bureaucracy-laden things have become—which Republican presidents, oddly enough, seem to especially love in their White Houses—there’s probably something written somewhere laying out who the hell is supposed to sharpen the pencils in Bush’s WH. Probably even got a Keeper of the Pencils office. And a Vice-Keeper too in case the Keeper-in-Chief becomes disabled or dies.
    Silly. If a Prez. wants his or her staff to take all its marching orders from his or her spouse, what’s to stop them?
    (Oh wait, another thing that happened under Wilson, if not worse!)

  12. zanzibar says:

    Thanks for pointing to your letter to the editor. EO 13292 seems Orwellian and written by Addington.

  13. Paul says:

    The main post(and many comments) are correct in that the VP has limited or no powers.
    What is worse are the expanded Article 2 powers (known and unknown)that were grabbed by Bush and perhaps subsumed into Cheney’s realm.
    Through laziness, the American public has allowed the “administration” to seize powers never envisagred by the founders.
    Americans will only regain their power when they take to the streets; and that is a distinct possibility with McCain at the helm.

  14. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    Sidney Smith,
    Thanks for the posting.
    With respect to the declassification and official publication of documents related to our foreign relations, I would point out PL 102-138 Sec.198 (Foreign Relations Authorization FY 1992-1993). This added a new Title IV to 22 USC 4351, et seq. This was a bi-partisan piece of legislation from Senators Pell and Helms on the Foreign Relations Committee and signed into law by President Bush the elder.
    Section 198 relates to the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series published by the Department of State. It is our official documentary history of our foreign relations (since 1861). The intent was to speed appropriate declassification and to ensure an accurate and unbiased public record. While traditionally in printed volumes, in recent years some FRUS material has been placed online by the Department of State.
    For example,
    “The Foreign Relations of the United States series presents the official documentary historical record of major foreign policy decisions and significant diplomatic activity of the United States Government. The series documents the facts and events that contributed to the formulation of policies and includes evidence of supporting and alternative views to the policy positions ultimately adopted.
    The Historian of the Department of State is charged with the responsibility for the preparation of the Foreign Relations series. The staff of the Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs, plans, researches, compiles, and edits the volumes in the series. This documentary editing proceeds in full accord with the generally accepted standards of historical scholarship. Official regulations codifying specific standards for the selection and editing of documents for the series were first promulgated by Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg on March 26, 1925. These regulations, with minor modifications, guided the series through 1991.
    A new statutory charter for the preparation of the series was established by Public Law 102-138, the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1992 and 1993, which was signed by President George Bush on October 28, 1991. Section 198 of P.L. 102-138 added a new Title IV to the Department of State’s Basic Authorities Act of 1956 (22 USC 4351, et seq.).
    The statute requires that the Foreign Relations series be a thorough, accurate, and reliable record of major United States foreign policy decisions and significant United States diplomatic activity. The volumes of the series should include all records needed to provide comprehensive documentation of major foreign policy decisions and actions of the United States Government. The statute also confirms the editing principles established by Secretary Kellogg: the Foreign Relations series is guided by the principles of historical objectivity and accuracy; records should not be altered or deletions made without indicating in the published text that a deletion has been made; the published record should omit no facts that were of major importance in reaching a decision; and nothing should be omitted for the purposes of concealing a defect in policy. The statute also requires that the Foreign Relations series be published not more than 30 years after the events recorded. The editors are convinced that this volume, which was compiled in 1990-1991, meets all regulatory, statutory, and scholarly standards of selection and editing.”
    I was one of two staff members responsible for this legislation. My friend and colleague Frank Sievers of Senator Pell’s staff took the lead and I was happy to support his effort at the staff level. Senator Helms strongly supported Senator Pell’s leadership on this issue believing the public had a right to the fullest public record possible in the most timely manner possible.
    Senator Helms wanted the record brought up to within a 20 year time frame but the White House was adament so that is why we have the 30 year provision. Hence, as it stands today, documents relating to events in 1978 would be declassified and published not later than 2008. (Under the 20 year frame, documents relating to events up to 1988 would have been declassified and published no later than 2008.)
    Little Bush began reclassification of some materials previously classified and, it is said, tightened classification on the years his father was Director — 30 January 1976 to 20 January 1977.
    This is considerably more than an obscure technical issue. We are talking about the official national documentary record of our foreign relations available to the public: scholars, journalists, citizens.

  15. I realize that ascribing a candidate’s personality to his horoscope is too silly a comment for this blog – I don’t know if that stuff is real or not – but the ineffable “presence” Obama wields, combined with that aura of leadership that pisses off his non-admirers, reminds one of a kingly lion. Let us employ astrology as a metaphor, since it is not based on scientific fact. Even the Daily Show sendup of him used Lion King. I am a Leo myself and without any of Obama’s accomplishments; however when I walk into a room, make a pronouncement, or stand up before an audience, people listen to me as if I were an important personage. My young Leo son exhibits some of the same. It pisses people off when they know how little authority you really have, and yet you sound so utterly convincing. (i.e. your nearest and dearest, or the fellow student in the next seat over who knows more on the subject but can’t pronounce on it with such conviction)
    It’s a useful trait in a teacher, preacher or politician. It could be genetic and not a gift of the alignment of the stars.
    I recognize this “it” factor in Obama; I respond to it as many do, but I consider still what he says and what he does. I think he has shown good executive and strategic skills in getting to where he is and building his organization. I am not worried about whether he can handle the Presidency. Will he make mistakes? Certainly. Will everybody love him? Nope. Will he run this country into the ground or gut the Constitution? Not at all. He may even repair some of the damage done by the last 8 years of BushCheney.
    Giving a good speech and inspiring people to get involved is not a bad trait in the leader of the free world. The question is will he use that trait for good, and what else will he do to govern. I have reason to hope he will do as well as W. Clinton ever did, and perhaps better.

  16. Cynic that I am I believe power is taken not given. On that basis the current VP due to skill and experience took power from the President who was unskilled and inexperienced.
    When the history of Bush 43’s two terms is written it will be mostly about Cheney. Few Executive Orders actually mention the VP!

  17. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    Prof. Kiracofe, et al.
    Thank you for the comments. Per usual, Prof. Kiracofe leaves enough info to keep one busy for a month. Amazing and much appreciated.
    I think you are absolutely right. It’s Addington all the way. If I remember correctly, an interest in Addington is what led me to the Huq article.
    Re: Palin on the other thread. I just don’t know re: Springer etc. and family values.
    I am working under the assumption that McCain’s handlers desire an attack on Iran and they are planning and acting accordingly. From there, I ask questions, such as why the Palin selection. If my assumption is wrong, then my conclusions are as well.
    But I plug every aspect of the campaign into that assumption.
    With that in mind, in some ways, I am beginning to think that Podhoretz’s goal is to take McCain back to 67. And women like Palin in 67 were good looking women who undoubtedly would have supported the Vietnam War.
    You raise a great point about Biden’s son.
    In my opinion, I believe the best thing the Democrats could do right now is recognize the findings of the 2007 NIE as well as the fact that Ms. Palin is a Army mom. (then cross examine thoroughly on the issues!).
    In other words, I’d take the 2007 NIE findings and make them front and center. It negates the McCain ad. Make the 2007 NIE a campaign issue.
    Just my two cents worth and who knows…
    Again, thanks.

  18. That little horoscope soliloquy above was meant to be posted with the other Democratic candidate thread comments – different post. Sorry for the apparent non sequitur. I am trying to rescue myself for talking about Leos and horoscopes at SST, among such august and serious company. Don’t want you to think I’m a completely flaky Californian.

  19. wisedup says:

    Does anyone want to lay odds that little Bush has already signed or will sign an EO permitting the VP to delete whatever records are deemed to be “not in the interests of this administration the country”
    We will find that our past has just disappeared.

  20. J says:

    russia-phobe cheney is trying his best to start a thermonuclear wwiii, and is intent on a military strike on iran before the so-called ‘de facto’ president cheney leaves office.
    his current travels overseas are no good for the u.s., nor the world at large.

  21. It should be noted for the record that NO SAP (Special Access Program) records are maintained by NARA. These are the so-called black programs (classified budget) of the Executive Branch. No record of them exists in the Diplomatic History of the US either. Accordingly the historical record is extremely incomplete and misleading. Secrecy in this case even to professional historians distorts and destroys the US political system in an invidious manner. No oversight by Congress on this gap also. Don’t ask when the Republic fell? Who guards the guardians?

  22. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    Cheney’s visit to Azerbaijan from a local perspective:
    ” September 5, 2008, 11:27
    Cool reception for Cheney in Azerbaijan
    American Vice President Dick Cheney’s visit to the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, appears to be have been unsuccessful for Washington, unlike his visit to Tbilisi.
    Cheney received a cool welcome and, according to Russia’s Kommersant newspaper, Azerbaijan’s President Ilkham Aliyev has implied that Baku is going to play a waiting game concerning the Nabucco gas pipeline, which is set to bypass Russia.
    Neither President Ilkham Aliyev nor the Prime Minister, Artur Rasizade, were there to greet Cheney at Baku airport. Instead, he was met by the country’s First Deputy PM and the Foreign Minister.
    The Kommersant newspaper reports that Cheney was very annoyed by the results of the meeting with President Aliyev and even refused to attend a ceremonial supper in his own honour.
    Aleksandr Pikaev, an analyst from the Institute for World Economy and International Relations, believes Dick Cheney is hardly the right man for diplomacy in the region.
    “The Americans didn’t find anything else to support their failed ally Saakashvili other than sending to the region Mr Cheney who is incredibly unpopular in the world, who is associated with the war in Iraq, with all this conservative black-and-white vision of the world, who was accused of corruption – remember the Halliburton affair in Iraq. If the Bush Administration really wanted to consolidate the international community behind the U.S. in criticising Russia, I think they should have found somebody else, not Mr Cheney,” Pikaev said.”
    Cheney was huffing and puffing about pipelines and energy security and “deep and abiding” US interests in the Caucasus.

  23. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    As this Administration winds down, one important objective for the Cheney-Bush crowd will be historical cover-up. Best way is to destroy records and not turn records over to the National Archives:
    “Scholars and open government advocates, though, are sounding the alarm that Cheney, perhaps the most secretive and influential vice president ever, who entered government service during Richard Nixon’s administration, could be returning to Tricky Dick’s disdain for open government. A lawsuit filed Monday would force Cheney to comply with the 1978 Presidential Records Act, one of an array of post-Watergate reforms meant to redress Nixon’s abuse of the office.
    The act requires outgoing administrations to hand over executive branch documents to the National Archives, where the records are preserved for future historians. Problem is, Cheney’s crafty lawyers have argued he is not a member of the executive branch, and President Bush early in his tenure amended what could amount to a giant loophole to the act that would allow Cheney to simply toss his papers into the fireplace on his way out the door.
    “I think we’re at a crossroad,” said historian Martin Sherwin, one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit that would force Cheney to preserve and hand over his records. “There’s a possibility here for what I call a history heist, or a historical theft from the American people.”

  24. Les says:

    Mike Pence thinks he’ll have power comparable to that of Dick Cheney under GWB if Donald Trump wins the election.

  25. The Beaver says:

    Shouldn’t the title be:
    The vice president has no power – re-published 4 October 2016

  26. The Beaver says:

    @ Les
    Donald Trump reportedly plans to delegate all Domestic and Foreign Power to his VP, according to one of his sons.

  27. Imagine says:

    How much trouble a politician accomplishes depends partially on the size of his In Box. A President has numerous responsibilities, and so can only move the needle on a few. A VP basically writes his own schedule; thus has much time for mischief.
    VP Cheney set up his own shadow government. It is unclear whether this was ever disbanded completely.
    VP Biden was instrumental in helping to overthrow Ukraine, and installed his son Hunter as director of Kholomoisky’s oil company Burisma. Remember, it’s not technically unconstitutional if it’s merely family, not YOU. He was also apparently instrumental in overthrowing the government of Brazil:
    Wise Presidents choose VPs with little ambition. Such men can make good “servant leaders” if they come to top power.

  28. Tol Tapen says:

    This is a sad spectacle to see so many hardened people taking the constitutional setting of their homeland seriously.
    While the USA is oficially classified as a presidential republic it is a republic from purely formalistic POV only, while its president isn’t much more than a frontperson for the ruling oligarchy that controls the USA – the “borg’s” core if the language of this blog is appropriated.
    The core is more like an octopus brain – it always lacks precision of control as far as the tentacles are concerned. These days, just before the elections, its “neural pathways” are partially jammed and the tentacles (politicians, military commanders, etc. trying to save their arses) seem to have the minds of their own. Hence, we see the establishment acting in a bizzare ways, making akward and contradictory statements but soon enough the collective mind shall be restored – the power grab by the oligarchy, of which there isn’t a word written in the US constitution, will be complete.

  29. different clue says:

    If Trump/Pence got elected, I wonder if Trump would delegate an awful lot of power and authority to Pence. Perhaps Pence would be put in charge of “foreign and domestic policy” and Trump would take charge of “making America great again”.

  30. Stephanie says:

    Given the lack of definition in the job description, the vice presidency can be pretty much anything the president wants it to be. I would think that an administration where the veep is functioning reasonably happily would be the better for it. Lyndon Johnson was not treated well in the Kennedy Administration (by Kennedy’s people, that is; JFK himself was generally more understanding of LBJ’s sensitivities). This had its negative aftereffects when Johnson got the top spot. (Of course, in turn LBJ couldn’t resist meting out even worse treatment to the unfortunate Humphrey.)
    Since Clinton/Gore, there seems to be an assumption that the vice president will be given more to do and have his own sphere. Bush/Cheney went far beyond that, of course. In the Clinton White House there were three loci of power – Clinton, Gore, and Mrs. Clinton – and a similar dynamic can be expected in Clinton II. I understand Kaine was chosen in part because he knows the Clintons well and is unlikely to resent – much – having to compete for the president’s attention and ear with the First Spouse as Gore is said to have done.

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