Palin still doesn't grasp role of VP
Nick Juliano and David Edwards
Published: Wednesday October 22, 2008

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Sarah Palin burst onto the national scene out of nowhere a couple months ago when she became the Republican vice presidential nominee, but the Alaska governor seems to still not fully understand the details of the job she is applying for.

In an interview with a local Colorado TV station, Palin said the vice president is "in charge of the United States Senate" and "can really get in there with the senators and make a lot of good policy changes."

Palin's statement seems to betray a fundamental understanding about the nature of the vice president's job. As regards the Senate, the vice president's official role is to serve as presiding officer, although those duties are traditionally handled by the president pro temproe. Only in the event of a tie can the vice president cast a vote, and such a scenario seems unlikely as Democrats are expected to pick up anywhere between three and nine seats in November.

If Palin didn't want to break out the copy of the Constitution that is presumably gathering dust on a bookshelf somewhere in the governor's mansion, she could have simply looked to pop-culture for some easy to follow guidance. The Emmy-winning HBO mini-series John Adams featured a memorable scene of the country's first vice president being reminded of the lack of authority his position entailed.

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"The Senate would no doubt benefit from the vice president's learning and erudition," William Maclay, the first senator from Pennsylvania, tells Adams. "But I respectfully remind him that barring a tie in voting, he has no say in the matter."

Adams later laments to a friend that the vice presidency "is the most insignificant office ever devised by the mind of man."

More than a century later, Franklin Roosevelt's VP John Nance Garner would declare his office to be "not worth a bucket of warm spit."

While the current vice president Dick Cheney has gone to extraordinary lengths to expand the office's power, that expansion has not come by way of exerting more control over the Senate's arduous policy-making process.

The confusion on display in Palin's interview this week suggests that she may still be wondering, as she was in July just what the VP does, anyway.

Palin also apparently did little to study up after fumbling a question about her prospective duties during this month's debate with Democratic VP nominee Joe Biden.

"I'm thankful the Constitution would allow a bit more authority given to the vice president if that vice president so chose to exert it in working with the Senate," she told the debate audience.

Asked to explain what she meant, Palin continued into the realm of the fanciful, endorsing Cheney's position of a more powerful vice presidency while crafting interpretations of the office even he didn't seem to have envisioned.

"Well, our founding fathers were very wise there in allowing through the Constitution much flexibility there in the office of the vice president. ... So I do agree with him that we have a lot of flexibility in there," she said. "And we'll do what we have to do to administer very appropriately the plans that are needed for this nation."

Article I of the US Constitution establishes the framework for the House and Senate and establishes the vice president's limited position therein. There is essentially no flexibility or ambiguity regarding the VP's position, and the office is mentioned only twice.

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, or when he shall exercise the office of President of the United States.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the person who actually is "in charge" of the Senate, called Palin's comments "puzzling" and wondered whether Palin had ever even read the Constitution.

Pallin was responding to a question sent in by a local third-grader, who asked quite simply, "What does the vice president do?" Given Palin's confused answer, perhaps it is heartening, at least, that she's not applying to be an elementary school teacher.

"That's something Piper would ask me," Palin said, referring to her own young daughter. "A vice president has a really great job because, not only are they there to support the president's agenda, they're like the team member, the teammate to that president. But also, they’re in charge of the US 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."

This video is from KUSA 9 News, broadcast October 21, 2008.

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