Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Vice-Presidency and the Senate

Q: Brandon Garcia wants to know, “What does the Vice President do?”
PALIN: That’s something that Piper would ask me! …
[T]hey’re in charge of the U.S. Senate so if they want to they can really get in there with the senators and make a lot of good policy changes that will make life better for Brandon and his family and his classroom.

[Palin: Vice President “In Charge of” the Senate (!?!), Jackson Free Press, 21 Oct 2008]
Our first Vice-President, John Adams, tried this. As Joseph J. Ellis reminds us in Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation:
During his eight years in office Adams cast more tie-breaking votes - at least thirty-one and perhaps as many as thirty-eight - than any subsequent vice president in American history...
But after Adams's initial fling at participating in the debates,
the members of the Senate decided that the vice president was not permitted to speak.
"It is to be sure a punishment to hear other men talk free hours every day," Adams wrote to Abigail, "and not be at liberty to talk at all myself, especially as more than half I hear appears to me very young, inconsiderate, and inexperienced."

[Founding Brothers, page 166]
From Vice President of the United States (President of the Senate) we learn that:
Holding the least understood, most ridiculed, and most often ignored constitutional office in the federal government, American vice presidents have included some remarkable individuals.
Under the original code of Senate rules, the presiding officer exercised great power over the conduct of the body's proceedings. Rule XVI provided that "every question of order shall be decided by the President [of the Senate], without debate; but if there be a doubt in his mind, he may call for a sense of the Senate." Thus, contrary to later practice, the presiding officer was the sole judge of proper procedure and his rulings could not be turned aside by the full Senate without his assent.

The first two vice presidents, Adams and Jefferson, did much to shape the nature of the office, setting precedents that were followed by others. During most of the nineteenth century, the degree of influence and the role played within the Senate depended chiefly on the personality and inclinations of the individual involved. Some had great parliamentary skill and presided well, while others found the task boring, were incapable of maintaining order, or chose to spend most of their time away from Washington, leaving the duty to a president pro tempore. Some made an effort to preside fairly, while others used their position to promote the political agenda of the administration.

During the twentieth century, the role of the vice president has evolved into more of an executive branch position. Now, the vice president is usually seen as an integral part of a president's administration and presides over the Senate only on ceremonial occasions or when a tie-breaking vote may be needed. Yet, even though the nature of the job has changed, it is still greatly affected by the personality and skills of the individual incumbent.

[Reprinted from:
Mark O. Hatfield, with the Senate Historical Office,
Vice Presidents of the United States, 1789-1993,
Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1997, pp. xiii-xxiii.]
And finally, from the U.S. Constitution:
The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no vote, unless they be equally divided.
[U.S. Constitution, Article I, section 3]
Note: I'd hoped to beat Keith Olbermann to the punch on this one, but lost!
[BUT: I do have references other than the U.S. Constitution!]

Have a nice day.

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