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The Daily Register - Harrisburg, IL
  • What does the vice president of the United States really do?

  • But what, exactly, is the vice president's role once the battle of Red vs. Blue is said and finished, and the act of governing becomes the primary concern of our nation's No. 2 politician? Here, we attempt to answer the questions you might have over what exactly the vice president does once elected into office.

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There is perhaps no better-known vice president in American history than Texas lawman Lyndon B. Johnson, who brought John F. Kennedy enough votes in the South to win the presidency and eventually influence Americans on his ideals of a "Great Society." But most vice presidents don't have that opportunity -- and their powers are limited by the U.S. Constitution. After the oft-vilified Dick Cheney left office in 2008, "Everyman" Joe Biden stepped into that role after campaigning across the country as President Obama's counterpart and, yes, challenging the wonderful Sarah Palin to a debate for the ages. But what, exactly, is the vice president's role once the battle of Red vs. Blue is said and finished, and the act of governing becomes the primary concern of our nation's No. 2 politician? Here, we attempt to answer the questions you might have over what exactly the vice president does once elected into office.

What does it say in the U.S. Constitution about the vice president?

Articles I & II of the Constitution explain the role of our vice president being as president of the U.S. Senate, who would cast a a tiebreaker vote if required, and as being first in line to succeed the president should he (or she) become unable to serve. After President William Henry Harrison died in 1841, John Tyler set the precedent that was later clarified with the ratification of the 25th Amendment to define the rules of succession as follows: Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.

Does the VP often have to break a tie in the Senate?

In history, a tie-breaking vote has been cast 244 times by 35 different vice presidents. The first to do so was John Adams, who cast a record 29 tie-breaking votes that still stands as the most ever by a VP. Of modern presidents, Richard Nixon and Dick Cheney both have the most tie-breaking votes with eight apiece. The tactic has been used less and less frequently as more often than not, opposing legislators in the Senate will hold a filibuster to prevent divisive legislation from getting passed and squeeze conciliatory language out of the process.

What else does it say in the Constitution?

The 12th Amendment changed the rules for electing the vice president so that, instead of casting two separate ballots, the electors cast only one vote each for president and vice president. Originally, whoever had the majority of votes became president, and the runner-up became VP. Section 4 also states that VP's can be ousted from office for the following convictions: treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.

What does the VP do otherwise? Seems like he has a lot of time on his hands.

As a campaigner, the VP often serves as an attack dog on the other party's candidate and running mate. Most often, they were selected in the first place because they bring a significant advantage to a voting bloc -- swing state voters are most often sought after with this nomination process. And a bad VP pick is just as likely to have a disastrous effect and cost a party votes. But while in office, the VP's informal tasks often include being a drafter and spokesperson for the administration's policies, presidential adviser, and a symbol of American concern or support. They also serve to act as a "balance" to the president.

How often do they then run their own campaigns for president?

Since the 19th century, hardly ever. Abraham Lincoln of the Republican Party and Andrew Johnson of the Democratic Party were co-endorsed as president and vice president for the National Union Party in 1864. But after the Civil War had ended and Lincoln was succeeded by Johnson, states began to place candidates for president and vice president together on the same ticket. Therefore, they campaign jointly.

Can anyone be VP?

Eligibility for holding the office of president and vice president were modified by amendments to the U.S. Constitution that defines the parameters required for a person to run for each office: The 12 Amendment (1804), which requires the VP to meet all of the qualifications of being president and the 22nd Amendment (1951) which prevents a president from being elected more than twice. To run for office, someone must be a natural born citizen, at least 35 years old and having inhabited the U.S. for at least fourteen years.

And most importantly, how much do we pay this guy?

The vice president's salary is $230,700, which was set by the 1989 Government Salary Reform Act.
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