Roles of a Vice President

Roles+of+a+Vice+President

Kevin Conjalka, Writer

The President of the United States- an office that is undoubtedly the most powerful on the Earth. A job that thousands of people have tried to get, and only 46 men (well 45 because Grover Cleveland had two non-consecutive terms, so he counts as two people) have had the honor to hold. 

Despite what you may think, the president of the United States does not do the job of leading the county on his own. The president typically picks his own cabinet of 16 people to help guide their decision-making and help run the many executive departments that the US government is made up of. These cabinet members’ roles are pretty self-explanatory with each member’s title explaining what department they lead. The Secretary of State is the head foreign relations expert in Washington, helping to improve relationships among the many states of the world. The Secretary of Defense is in charge of the armed forces and defending our nation from all foreign threats. The list goes on and on, and if I were to name a member of the cabinet, I’m willing to bet that you could probably guess what they do, that is except for one.

The vice president of the United States- the second in command. The right-hand man (or woman), that does…well ummm…what do they do exactly?

The “official” answer from the Constitution says little. Currently, the vice president has three official roles to fulfill in the US government.

 

  1. Act as president of the Senate, and cast a tie-breaking vote in the event of a 50/50 tie.
  2. Certify the counting of the votes in the electoral college and announce the winner of the most recent election, and the new president and vice president of the United States (George H.W. Bush announced himself as the winner of the 1988 election).
  3. Take over the office of president of the United States in the event that the current president dies, resigns, or is no longer able to perform their duties.

 

You may have noticed that this is not a lot of work. In fact, if there is not a tie in the Senate, and the president does not leave the office before their term is up, the vice president does nothing, except for one day every four years in which the electoral vote is certified on the Senate floor. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was so bored with his job under JFK that he wanted to take back his old job as Senate Majority leader because he felt that the position was powerless and did not affect the day-to-day running of the county. 

That being said, the president of the United States can often bestow power to the vice president and assign them jobs that the Constitution doesn’t give them. Examples in recent history include:

 

  • Al Gore was a lead negotiator in NAFTA under Bill Clinton
  • Dick Cheney was a head advisor and decision-maker in foreign and domestic policy under George W. Bush
  • Joe Biden was a lead negotiator in Congress under Barack Obama, helping push several bills through the Senate and the House such as raising the debt ceiling and pushing the Affordable Care Act.
  • Mike Pence was the head of Donald Trump’s presidential transition team and the leader of the Coronavirus task force when the pandemic hit.
  • Kamala Harris has not been vice president for very long, so her roles are not too well known, but so far she has made many foreign trips throughout the globe and has been busy casting tie-breaking votes in the Senate, as there is currently a 50-50 tie.

 

So I guess the best answer to “what does the Vice President do?” – it depends on the president.  As listed earlier, vice presidents have had a variety of different jobs and roles throughout the years and it all comes down to what the president needs or wants them to do. Maybe in the future there will be a new amendment added to the Constitution, making their roles more set in stone, but for right now, the only clear answer to their job in US government, is their tie-breaking vote in the Senate, certifying the electoral college, and taking over in the event that the president can no longer serve.