The United States Vice President is the second-in-command of the Executive branch of US government. Elected as a team with the President, the Vice President, also called the VP or Veep, is often chosen at least in part for his ability to help the Presidential candidate win the election. After voting has ended and the President and VP are sworn in, many Vice Presidents seem to vanish into the White House, leading many to wonder exactly what their job requires.
Originally, Vice Presidents did not run on an election ticket with a presidential candidate. Instead, they were the person who came in second in the race for president, often resulting in bitter political rivals forced to share the government for four years. John Adams, the first VP, had no qualms at describing the job as useless and pointless, as his ideas were constantly subverted at the whim of President George Washington.
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In 1804, the United States Congress passed the 12th Amendment to the US Constitution, providing that presidential and vice-presidential candidates run separate races. This amendment remains in effect today, despite the fact party candidates for the offices run together. If no vice-presidential candidate receives an Electoral College majority, the US Senate chooses the VP, even if their choice is of a different party. This has only occurred once in history, when Virginia’s electoral delegates refused to vote for the VP candidate running with Martin Van Buren. The Senate chose to elect Van Buren’s partner anyway, but many wonder what would happen if this occurred again.
The Vice President is the President of the US Senate. While he does not really control anything in the Senate, he is called on to be the tie-breaking vote if the Senate is deadlocked. They also oversee procedural issues and preside over impeachment trials, unless the person impeached is the President. In that case, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court oversees the trial. The VP is not usually to be found in everyday Senate meetings, instead allowing a senate-chosen President pro tempore to preside over usual proceedings.
The second official job of the Vice President is to take over the Presidency if the President resigns, dies or is impeached and removed from office, as outlined by the 25th Amendment of the Constitution of America. This has happened nine times in US history, beginning with the succession of President Tyler upon the death of President William Henry Harrison, and most recently with President Gerald Ford replacing President Nixon after Nixon’s resignation from office.
In addition to the two main duties, the Vice President usually performs whatever function the President deems necessary. Some have chosen to get involved with domestic issues, or have acted as the President’s representative to foreign governments. The VP may also serve in an advisory capacity to the President, but this is not always the case. The power of the office is largely determined by the relationship between the President and the VP. Frequently, the two holders of the offices have been political rivals or even enemies, and the VP is occasionally resigned to relatively low-impact work.
Nonetheless, the role of the VP is a vital one to the stability of the nation. By insuring that the succession will go directly to the VP in the event of the President’s death, the opportunities for panic and chaos are severely reduced. If the President and Vice President enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship, the Vice President can be a powerful figure in Washington and across the nation, even leading to their own future success as a candidate for President.