Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Gaffe Machine versus the Hockey Mom

Am I writing about a vice-presidential debate, or WWE?

I thought that Biden showed that he is much more of a policy expert than Palin. But, everyone knew that going into the debate, so I'm not sure how much Obama can gain from it. Palin's performance probably would surprise more voters. Chances are, over the last couple of weeks the perception of Palin that many hold has been formed by Tina Fey's impersonation and select clips of the Katie Couric interview. For those people, they were probably surprised at how well she did.

Joe Biden did have another gaffe, something he has become quite well known for. This is what he said:

BIDEN: Vice President Cheney has been the most dangerous vice president we've had probably in American history. The idea he doesn't realize that Article I of the Constitution defines the role of the vice president of the United States, that's the Executive Branch. He works in the Executive Branch. He should understand that. Everyone should understand that.

And the primary role of the vice president of the United States of America is to support the president of the United States of America, give that president his or her best judgment when sought, and as vice president, to preside over the Senate, only in a time when in fact there's a tie vote. The Constitution is explicit.

The only authority the vice president has from the legislative standpoint is the vote, only when there is a tie vote. He has no authority relative to the Congress. The idea he's part of the Legislative Branch is a bizarre notion invented by Cheney to aggrandize the power of a unitary executive and look where it has gotten us. It has been very dangerous.

Now here is the part of the Constitution he is referring to:

The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no vote, unless they be equally divided.

The Senate shall choose their other officers, and also a President pro tempore, in the absence of the Vice President,
This appears in Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution.

First, this part of the Constitution deals with the legislative branch, not the executive branch as Biden claimed.

Second, nothing in the Constitution states that the vice-president's primary role is to support the president. In the original document, the vice-president was the second place finisher in the presidential race, so it was likely the the VP would be an opponent of the president anyway.

Third, the Constitution says that the VP will only vote when it is a tie vote, but it does not say that is the only time that the VP will preside over the Senate. In the early Congresses, the VP did preside over the Senate. It is only because of custom that, today, the VP only presides during a tie-vote or ceremonial occasions.

I was watching the post-debate commentary on PBS and was surprised that no one picked up on that. They even had presidential historians!


karenwalker said...

Well, I suppose it depends on where one thinks that Senator Biden misspoke. Was it when he said “article I” or when he said “executive”? While I was watching the debate, in the context of the question about Vice President Cheney, I thought that Senator Biden was referring to article II. (Although he did say Article I) Article II is about the executive branch. Under Article II and the Twenty-Fifth Amendment which in the event of a vacancy in the office of the president, the Vice President becomes the Acting President. Gwen specifically asked, “Governor, you mentioned a moment ago the constitution might give the vice president more power than it has in the past. Do you believe as Vice President Cheney does, that the Executive Branch does not hold complete sway over the office of the vice presidency, that it it is also a member of the Legislative Branch?” This question must be taken in the context of Cheney’s convoluted reasoning that he is not part of the executive branch when the executive branch offices were ordered to cooperate in regular reviews of their security procedures for handling documents. Several sources including the New York Time quotes Cheney chief of staff David Addington, who told Congress “the vice president belongs to neither the executive nor legislative branch of government, but rather is attached by the Constitution to Congress. The vice president presides over the Senate.” So in the context of Cheney’s stance that his office is not part of the executive branch, when refusing to provide information requested by Congress, Senator Biden’s answer is quite understandable, particularly when it followed Ms Plain’s “Well, our founding fathers were very wise there in allowing through the Constitution much flexibility there in the office of the vice president.”

Dr. N said...

Article I tells us that the VP will be the president of the Senate. So, Biden was correct in referencing it with regard to the question of whether the VP is in the executive or the legislative branch. He was trying to make a counter-argument to Cheney by saying that the VP is only referenced in the section dealing with the presidency. But, of course, that's not true. Both Article I and Article II mention the role of the VP.

There are arguments that could be made to counter Cheney's claim (oddly, Pres. Bush was also on the opposite side in this case), but claiming that the VP is not mentioned in the section of the Constitution dealing with Congress is not one of them.