For a list, see List of Vice Presidents of the United States.
The Vice President of the United States is the holder of a public office created by the United States Constitution. The vice president, together with the President of the United States, is indirectly elected by the people through the Electoral College to a four-year term. The vice president is the first person in the presidential line of succession, ascending to the presidency upon the death, resignation, or removal of the president.
Under the Constitution, the vice president is President of the Senate. By virtue of the vice president's role as President of the Senate, he or she is the nominal head of the United States Senate. In that capacity, the vice president is allowed to vote in the Senate, but only when necessary to break a tied vote. Pursuant to the Twelfth Amendment, the vice president presides over the joint session of Congress when it convenes to count the vote of the Electoral College.
While the vice president's only constitutionally prescribed functions, aside from presidential succession, relate to his role as President of the Senate, the office is now commonly viewed as a member of the executive branch of the federal government. The U.S. Constitution does not expressly assign the office to any one branch, causing scholars to dispute whether it belongs to the executive branch, the legislative branch, or both. The modern view of the vice president as a member of the executive branch is due in part to the assignment of executive duties to the vice president by either the president or Congress, though such activities are only recent historical developments.
The creation of the office of Vice President was a direct consequence of the Electoral College. Delegates to the Philadelphia Convention gave each state a number of presidential electors equal to that state's combined share of House and Senate seats. Yet, the delegates worried each elector would only favor his own state's favorite son candidate, resulting in deadlocked elections producing no winner. To counter this presumed difficulty, the delegates gave each presidential elector two votes, required at least one of those votes be for a candidate from outside the elector's state, and mandated that the winner of the election have an absolute majority with respect to the number of electors. With these rules in place, the delegates hoped each electors' second vote would go to a statesman of national character.
However, fearing electors may throw away their second vote in order to bolster their favorite son's chance at winning, the Philadelphia delegates specified that the runner-up in the election would become Vice President. Creating this new office gave a real consequence to discarding votes, and required electors staidly cast their second ballots.
The Constitution limits the formal powers and role of Vice President to becoming President should the President become unable to serve (due to the death, resignation, or medical impairment of the President), and to acting as the presiding officer of the U.S. 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. For example, in the first half of 2001, the Senators were divided 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats and Dick Cheney's tie-breaking vote gave the Republicans the Senate majority. (See 107th United States Congress.)
As President of the Senate (Article I, Section 3, Clause 4), the Vice President oversees procedural matters and may cast a tie-breaking vote. There is a strong convention within the U.S. Senate that the Vice President not use his position as President of the Senate to influence the passage of legislation or act in a partisan manner, except in the case of breaking tie votes. As President of the Senate, John Adams cast twenty-nine tie-breaking votes, a record that no successor except for John C. Calhoun ever threatened. His votes protected the president's sole authority over the removal of appointees, influenced the location of the national capital, and prevented war with Great Britain. On at least one occasion he persuaded senators to vote against legislation that he opposed, and he frequently addressed the Senate on procedural and policy matters. Adams's political views and his active role in the Senate made him a natural target for critics of George Washington's administration. Toward the end of his first term, as a result of a threatened resolution that would have silenced him except for procedural and policy matters, he began to exercise more restraint in the hope of realizing the goal shared by many of his successors: election in his own right as president of the United States.
In modern times, the Vice President rarely presides over day-to-day matters in the Senate; in his place, the Senate chooses a President pro tempore (or "president for a time") to preside in the Vice President's absence; the Senate normally selects the longest-serving senator in the majority party. The President pro tempore has the power to appoint any other senator to preside and in practice, junior senators from the majority party are assigned the chore of presiding over the Senate at most times.
Except for this tie-breaking role, the Standing Rules of the Senate do not vest any significant responsibilities in the Vice President. Rule XIX, which governs debate, does not authorize the Vice President to participate in debate, and grants only to members of the Senate (and, upon appropriate notice, former presidents of the United States) the privilege of addressing the Senate, without granting a similar privilege to the sitting Vice President. Thus, as Time Magazine wrote during the controversial tenure of Vice President Charles G. Dawes, "once in four years the Vice President can make a little speech, and then he is done. For four years he then has to sit in the seat of the silent, attending to speeches ponderous or otherwise, of deliberation or humor."
The President of the Senate also presides over counting and presentation of the votes of the Electoral College. This process occurs in the presence of both houses of Congress, generally on January 6 of the year following a U.S. presidential election. In this capacity, only four Vice Presidents have been able to announce their own election to the presidency: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Van Buren, and George H. W. Bush. At the beginning of 1961, it fell to Richard Nixon to preside over this process, which officially announced the election of his 1960 opponent, John F. Kennedy. In 2001, Al Gore announced the election of his opponent, George W. Bush. In 1969, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey would have announced the election of his opponent, Richard Nixon; however, on the date of the Congressional joint session (January 6), Humphrey was in Norway attending the funeral of Trygve Lie, the first elected Secretary-General of the United Nations.
The President of the Senate may also preside over most of the impeachment trials of federal officers. However, whenever the President is impeached, the Chief Justice of the United States presides over the Senate for the trial. This duty may include the ability for the Vice President to preside over his or her own impeachment, although legal theory and scholars suggest the law would not allow any person to be the judge in a case where he or she is the defendant. If the Vice President is not present to preside over an impeachment trial, the duty falls to the Senate's Presiding Officer.
The U.S. Constitution provides that should the president die or become disabled while in office, the "powers and duties" of the office are transferred to the Vice President. Initially, it was unclear whether the Vice President actually became the new president or merely acting president. This was first tested in 1841 with the death of President William Henry Harrison. Harrison's Vice President, John Tyler, asserted that he had succeeded to the full presidential office, powers, and title, and declined to acknowledge documents referring to him as "Acting President." Despite some strong calls against it, Tyler took the oath of office as the tenth president. Tyler's claim was not challenged legally, and so the precedent of full succession was established. This was made explicit by Section 1 of the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1967.
Section 2 of the Twenty-fifth Amendment provides that:
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.
Gerald Ford was the first Vice President selected by this method, after the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew in 1973; after succeeding to the Presidency, Ford nominated Nelson Rockefeller as Vice President.
Another issue was who had the power to declare that an incapacitated president is unable to discharge his duties. This question had arisen most recently with the illnesses of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Section 3 and Section 4 of the amendment provide means for the Vice President to become Acting President upon the temporary disability of the president. Section 3 deals with self-declared incapacity of the president. Section 4 deals with incapacity declared by the joint action of the Vice President and of a majority of the Cabinet.
While Section 4 has never been invoked, section 3 has been invoked three times: on July 13, 1985 when Ronald Reagan underwent surgery to remove cancerous polyps from his colon, and twice more on June 29, 2002 and July 21, 2007 when George W. Bush underwent colonoscopy procedures requiring sedation. Prior to this amendment, Vice President Richard Nixon informally replaced President Dwight Eisenhower for several weeks on each of three occasions when Eisenhower was ill.
The extent of any informal roles and functions of the Vice President depend on the specific relationship between the President and the Vice President, but often include tasks such as drafter and spokesperson for the administration's policies, adviser to the President, and being a symbol of American concern or support. The influence of the Vice President in this role depends almost entirely on the characteristics of the particular administration. Dick Cheney, for instance, was widely regarded as one of President George W. Bush's closest confidants. Al Gore was an important adviser to President Bill Clinton on matters of foreign policy and the environment. Often, Vice Presidents will take harder-line stands on issues to ensure the support of the party's base while deflecting partisan criticism away from the President.
Under the American system the President is both head of state and head of government, and the ceremonial duties of the former position are often delegated to the Vice President. The Vice President may meet with other heads of state or attend state funerals in other countries, at times when the administration wishes to demonstrate concern or support but cannot send the President himself. Not all Vice Presidents are happy in their jobs. John Nance Garner, who served as Vice President from 1933 to 1941 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, remarked that the Vice Presidency wasn't "worth a pitcher of warm piss," although reporters allegedly changed the last word to "spit" to make the quote suitable for print.
Other statutorily granted roles include being Chairman of the Board of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and a member of both the National Security Council and the Board of the Smithsonian Institution.
In recent decades, the vice presidency has frequently been used to launch bids for the presidency. The transition of the office to its modern stature occurred primarily as a result of Franklin Roosevelt's 1940 nomination, when he captured the ability to nominate his running mate instead of leaving the nomination to the convention. Prior to that, party bosses often used the vice-presidential nomination as a consolation prize for the party's minority faction. A further factor potentially contributing to the rise in prestige of the office was the adoption of presidential preference primaries in the early 20th century. By adopting primary voting, the field of candidates for vice president was expanded by both the increased quantity and quality of presidential candidates successful in some primaries, yet who ultimately failed to capture the presidential nomination at the convention.
Of the thirteen presidential elections from 1956 to 2004, nine featured the incumbent president; the other four (1960, 1968, 1988, 2000) all featured the incumbent Vice President. Former Vice Presidents also ran, in 1984 (Walter Mondale), and in 1968 (Richard Nixon, against the incumbent Vice President Hubert Humphrey). The first presidential election to include neither the incumbent president nor the incumbent Vice President on a major party ticket since 1952 came in 2008 when President George W. Bush had already served two terms and Vice President Cheney chose not to run. Richard Nixon is also the only non-sitting vice president to be elected president.
The Twelfth Amendment states that "no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States." Thus, to serve as Vice President, an individual must:
Additionally, Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits any person who, having sworn an oath to support the United States Constitution, and later rebelled against the United States, from being eligible to serve as Vice President, unless each house of the Congress has removed the disqualification by a two-thirds vote.
Under the Twenty-second Amendment, the President of the United States may not be elected to more than two terms. However, there is no similar such limitation as to how many times one can be elected Vice President. Scholars dispute whether a former President barred from election to the Presidency is also ineligible to be elected Vice President, as suggested by the Twelfth Amendment. The issue has never been tested in practice.
Also, Article I, Section 3, Clause 7 allows the Senate, upon voting to remove an impeached federal official from office, to disqualify that official from holding any federal office.
While it is commonly held that the President and Vice President must be residents of different states, this is not actually the case. Nothing in the Constitution prohibits both candidates being from a single state. Instead, the limitation imposed is on the members of the Electoral College, who must cast a ballot for at least one candidate who is not from their own state.
In theory, the candidates elected could both be from one state, but the electors of that state would run the risk of denying their vice presidential candidate the absolute majority required to secure the election, even if the presidential candidate is elected. This would then place the vice presidential election in the hands of the Senate.
In practice, however, residency is rarely an issue. Parties have avoided nominating tickets containing two candidates from the same state. Further, the candidates may themselves take action to alleviate any residency conflict. For example, at the start of 2000 election Dick Cheney was a resident of Texas, where he was the CEO of Halliburton; Cheney quickly changed his residency back to Wyoming, where he had previously served as a U.S. Representative, when Texas governor and Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush asked Cheney to be his vice presidential candidate.
The vice presidential candidates of the major national political parties are formally selected by each party's quadrennial nominating convention, following the selection of the party's presidential candidates. The official process is identical to the one by which the presidential candidates are chosen, with delegates placing the names of candidates into nomination, followed by a ballot in which candidates must receive a majority to secure the party's nomination. In practice, the presidential nominee has considerable influence on the decision, and in the 20th century it became customary for that person to select a preferred running mate, who is then nominated and accepted by the convention. In recent years, with the presidential nomination usually being a foregone conclusion as the result of the primary process, the selection of a vice presidential candidate is often announced prior to the actual balloting for the presidential candidate, and sometimes before the beginning of the convention itself. Often, the presidential nominee will name a vice presidential candidate who will bring geographic or ideological balance to the ticket or appeal to a particular constituency. The vice presidential candidate might also be chosen on the basis of traits the presidential candidate is perceived to lack, or on the basis of name recognition. To foster party unity, popular runners-up in the presidential nomination process are commonly considered.
The ultimate goal of vice presidential candidate selection is to help and not hurt the party's chances of getting elected. An overly dynamic selection can backfire by outshining the presidential candidate. Classic examples of this came in 1988, when Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis chose experienced Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen, and 2008, when Republican candidate John McCain picked Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. In these and in other cases the selection was seen to have hurt the nominee. In 1984, Walter Mondale picked Geraldine Ferraro whose nomination became a drag on the ticket due to repeated questions about her husband's finances. Questions about Dan Quayle's experience and temperament did not help the 1988 presidential campaign of George H.W. Bush, but he still won. James Stockdale, the choice of third-party candidate Ross Perot in 1992, was seen as incompetent by many, but the Perot-Stockdale ticket still won about 19% of the vote.
The first presidential candidate to choose his vice presidential candidate was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940. The last not to name a vice presidential choice, leaving the matter up to the convention, was Democrat Adlai Stevenson in 1956. The convention chose Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver over Massachusetts Senator (and later president) John F. Kennedy. At the tumultuous 1972 Democratic convention, presidential nominee George McGovern selected Senator Thomas Eagleton as his running mate, but numerous other candidates were either nominated from the floor or received votes during the balloting. Eagleton nevertheless received a majority of the votes and the nomination, though he later quit the ticket.
In cases where the presidential nomination is still in doubt as the convention approaches, the campaigns for the two positions may become intertwined. In 1976, Ronald Reagan, who was trailing President Gerald R. Ford in the presidential delegate count, announced prior to the Republican National Convention that, if nominated, he would select Senator Richard Schweiker as his running mate. This move backfired to a degree, as Schweiker's relatively liberal voting record alienated many of the more conservative delegates who were considering a challenge to party delegate selection rules to improve Reagan's chances. In the end, Ford narrowly won the presidential nomination and Reagan's selection of Schweiker became moot.
Vice Presidents are elected indirectly in the United States. A number of electors, collectively known as the Electoral College, officially select the President. On Election Day, voters in each of the states and the District of Columbia cast ballots for these electors. Each state is allocated a number of electors, equal to the size of its delegation in both Houses of Congress combined. Generally, the ticket that wins the most votes in a state wins all of that state's electoral votes and thus has its slate of electors chosen to vote in the Electoral College.
The winning slate of electors meet at its state's capital on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, about six weeks after the election, to vote. They then send a record of that vote to Congress. The vote of the electors is opened by the sitting Vice President, acting in his capacity as President of the Senate and read aloud to a joint session of the incoming Congress, which was elected at the same time as the President.
Pursuant to the Twentieth Amendment, the Vice President's term of office begins at noon on January 20 of the year following the election. This date, known as Inauguration Day, marks the beginning of the four-year terms of both the President and Vice President.
Unlike the President, the United States Constitution does not specify an oath of office for the Vice President. Several variants of the oath have been used since 1789; the current form, which is also recited by Senators, Representatives and other government officers, has been used since 1884:
|“||I, A— B—, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.||”|
The term of office for Vice President is four years. While the Twenty-second Amendment generally restricts the President to two terms, there is no similar limitation on the office of Vice President, meaning an eligible person could hold the office as long as voters continued to vote for electors who in turn would renew the Vice President's tenure. A Vice President could even serve under different administrations, as George Clinton and John C. Calhoun have done.
Under the original terms of the Constitution, the electors of the Electoral College voted only for office of President rather than for both President and Vice President. Each elector was allowed to vote for two people for the top office. The person receiving the greatest number of votes (provided that such a number was a majority of electors) would be president, while the individual who received the next largest number of votes became Vice President. If no one received a majority of votes, then the House of Representatives would choose among the five highest vote-getters, with each state getting one vote. In such a case, the person who received the highest number of votes but was not chosen president would become Vice President. In the case of a tie for second, then the Senate would choose the Vice president.
The original plan, however, did not foresee the development of political parties and their adversarial role in the government. In the election of 1796, for instance, Federalist John Adams came in first, but because the Federalist electors split their second vote amongst several vice presidential candidates, Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson came second. Thus, the president and Vice President were from opposing parties. Predictably, Adams and Jefferson clashed over issues such as states' rights and foreign policy.
A greater problem occurred in the election of 1800, in which the two participating parties each had a secondary candidate they intended to elect as Vice President, but the more popular Democratic-Republican party failed to execute that plan with their electoral votes. Under the system in place at the time (Article II, Section 1, Clause 3), the electors could not differentiate between their two candidates, so the plan had been for one elector to vote for Thomas Jefferson but not for Aaron Burr, thus putting Burr in second place. This plan broke down for reasons that are disputed, and both candidates received the same number of votes. After 35 deadlocked ballots in the House of Representatives, Jefferson finally won on the 36th ballot and Burr became Vice President.
This tumultuous affair led to the adoption of the Twelfth Amendment in 1804, which directed the electors to use separate ballots to vote for the president and Vice President. While this solved the problem at hand, it ultimately had the effect of lowering the prestige of the Vice Presidency, as the office was no longer for the leading challenger for the presidency.
The separate ballots for President and Vice President became something of a moot issue later in the 19th century when it became the norm for popular elections to determine a state's Electoral College delegation. Electors chosen this way are pledged to vote for a particular presidential and vice presidential candidate (offered by the same political party). So, while the Constitution says that the president and Vice President are chosen separately, in practice they are chosen together.
If no vice presidential candidate receives an Electoral College majority, then the Senate selects the Vice President, in accordance with the United States Constitution. This could in theory lead to a situation in which the incumbent Vice President - in his role as President of the Senate - would be called upon to give his tie-breaking vote for himself or his successor. The election of 1836 is the only election so far where the office of the Vice President has been decided by the Senate. During the campaign, Martin Van Buren's running mate Richard Mentor Johnson was accused of having lived with a black woman. Virginia's 23 electors, who were pledged to Van Buren and Johnson, refused to vote for Johnson (but still voted for Van Buren). The election went to the Senate, where Johnson was elected 33-17.
The Vice President's salary is the same as that of the Chief Justice of the United States and the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives which, for 2009, is set at $227,300. The salary was set by the 1989 Government Salary Reform Act which also provides for an automatic cost of living adjustment for federal employees.
The Vice President does not automatically receive a pension based on that office, but instead receives the same pension as other members of Congress based on his position as president of the Senate. The Vice President must serve a minimum of five years to qualify for a pension.
Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution allows the House of Representatives to impeach high federal officials, including the President, for "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." Article I, Section 3, Clause 6 gives the Senate the power to remove impeached officials from office, given a two-thirds vote to convict. No Vice President has ever been impeached.
Prior to ratification of the Twenty-fifth Amendment in 1967, no provision existed for filling a vacancy in the office of Vice President. As a result, the Vice Presidency was left vacant 16 times, sometimes for nearly four years, until the next ensuing election and inauguration—eight times due to the death of the sitting president, resulting in the Vice Presidents becoming President; seven times due to the death of the sitting Vice President; and once due to the resignation of Vice President John C. Calhoun to become a senator.
Calhoun resigned because he had been dropped from the ticket by President Andrew Jackson in favor of Martin Van Buren. Already a lame duck Vice President, he was elected to the Senate by the South Carolina state legislature and resigned the Vice Presidency early to begin his Senate term because he believed he would have more power as a senator.
Since the adoption of the Twenty-fifth Amendment, the office has been vacant twice while awaiting confirmation of the new Vice President by both houses of Congress. The first such instance occurred in 1973 following the resignation of Spiro Agnew as Richard Nixon's vice president. Gerald Ford was subsequently nominated by President Nixon and confirmed by Congress. The second occurred 10 months later when Nixon resigned following the Watergate scandal and Ford assumed the presidency. The resulting Vice Presidential vacancy was filled by Nelson Rockefeller. Ford and Rockefeller are the only two people to have served as Vice President without having been elected to the office.
Once the election is over, the Vice President's usefulness is over. He's like the second stage of a rocket. He's damn important going into orbit, but he's always thrown off to burn up in the atmosphere.
The Twenty-fifth Amendment also made provisions for a replacement in the event that the Vice President died in office, resigned, or succeeded to the presidency. The original Constitution had no provision for selecting such a replacement, so the office of Vice President would remain vacant until the beginning of the next presidential and vice presidential terms. This issue had arisen most recently with the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963, and was rectified by Section 2 of the Twenty-fifth Amendment.
For much of its existence, the office of Vice President was seen as little more than a minor position. John Adams, the first Vice President, described it as "the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived." Thomas R. Marshall, the 28th Vice President, lamented: "Once there were two brothers. One ran away to sea; the other was elected Vice President of the United States. And nothing was heard of either of them again." When the Whig Party was looking for a Vice President on Zachary Taylor's ticket, they approached Daniel Webster, who said of the offer, "I do not propose to be buried until I am really dead and in my coffin." This was the second time Webster declined the office; first being offered it by William Henry Harrison. Ironically, both of the Presidents making the offer to Webster died in office, meaning he could have been President if he had accepted either one. But since Presidents rarely died in office, the natural stepping-stone to the Presidency was considered to be the office of Secretary of State.
For many years, the Vice President was given few responsibilities. After John Adams attended a meeting of the president's Cabinet in 1791, no Vice President did so again until Thomas Marshall stood in for President Woodrow Wilson while he traveled to Europe in 1918 and 1919. Marshall's successor, Calvin Coolidge, was invited to meetings by President Warren G. Harding. The next Vice President, Charles G. Dawes, did not seek to attend Cabinet meetings under President Coolidge, declaring that "the precedent might prove injurious to the country." Vice President Charles Curtis was also precluded from attending by President Herbert Hoover.
Garret Hobart, the first Vice President under William McKinley, was one of the very few Vice Presidents at this time who played an important role in the administration. A close confidant and adviser of the President, Hobart was called Assistant President.
In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt raised the stature of the office by renewing the practice of inviting the Vice President to cabinet meetings, which has been maintained by every president since. Roosevelt's first Vice President, John Nance Garner, broke with him at the start of the second term on the Court-packing issue and became Roosevelt's leading political enemy. Garner's successor, Henry Wallace, was given major responsibilities during the war, but he moved further to the left than the Democratic Party and the rest of the Roosevelt administration and was relieved of actual power. Roosevelt kept his last Vice President, Harry Truman, uninformed on all war and postwar issues, such as the atomic bomb, leading Truman to wryly remark that the job of the Vice President is to "go to weddings and funerals." Following Roosevelt's death and Truman's ascension to the presidency, the need to keep Vice Presidents informed on national security issues became clear, and Congress made the Vice President one of four statutory members of the National Security Council in 1949.
Richard Nixon reinvented the office of Vice President. He had the attention of the media and the Republican party, when Dwight Eisenhower ordered him to preside at Cabinet meetings in his absence. Nixon was also the first Vice President to temporarily assume control of the executive branch, which he did after Eisenhower suffered a heart attack on September 24, 1955, ileitis in June 1956, and a stroke in November 1957. President Jimmy Carter was the first president to formally give his Vice President, Walter Mondale, an office in the West Wing of the White House.
Six Vice Presidents are currently living:
Bush was elected President, while Mondale and Gore were nominees of the Democratic Party who failed to become President. Quayle briefly sought the Republican nomination after leaving the Vice Presidency. Cheney had previously explored the possibility of running for President before serving as Vice President, but chose not to run for President after his two terms as Vice President.
While former Vice Presidents are eligible for pensions, they are not entitled to Secret Service personal protection. However, former Vice Presidents traditionally receive Secret Service protection for up to six months after leaving office, by presidential fiat. As of June 2008, a bill entitled the "Former Vice President Protection Act of 2008" had passed in the House of Representatives. Still needing Senate consideration, the bill would provide six-month Secret Service protection by law to a former Vice President and family.
|United States presidential line of succession|
|1st in line||Succeeded by
Speaker of the House of Representatives