Joe Biden Harry Reid luncheon, Senate weekly meetings, weekly Senate luncheon
Dennis Cook/AP
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid with Sen. Joseph Biden during a March 2007 press

Reid Seeks to Limit Biden’s Power as VP

December 08, 2008 05:28 PM
by Josh Katz
In an attempt to diminish the powers of the vice presidency after Dick Cheney’s tenure, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. claims that that Joe Biden will not be able to join special Senate meetings.

Reid Sets Restrictions for Biden

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., recently told the Las Vegas Sun that Joe Biden will be prohibited from attending weekly internal Senate meetings as vice president. The decision is meant to set Congress apart from the executive branch after eight years of Vice President Dick Cheney’s strong involvement in the legislature. Reid wants to reestablish a stronger system of checks and balances.

Cheney has participated in the weekly Senate Republican strategy luncheons. “Cheney would come in there and try to force discipline on the Republican senators,” said Rutgers University Professor Ross Baker. “He was the Bigfoot that came into those meetings,” and “if someone got out of line, he would put a thumb in their eyes.”

Reid’s statement is not an affront to Biden, according to Elizabeth Alexander, the vice president-elect’s spokeswoman. Alexander said that Biden and Reid “see eye to eye on this.”

Kenneth F. Bunting, the associate publisher of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, commented on the vice-presidential change of guard. “With each new administration, the role of vice president gets a tweaking, if not a full redefinition. Vice President Dick Cheney’s unwholesome image, one that Biden definitely doesn’t want to replicate, raises the stakes on that significantly.”

The U.S. Constitution stipulates that the vice president presides over the Senate and is the tiebreaker for votes. The vice president is also first in line to succeed the president in case of death or incapacitation. But the duties of the office have been subject to interpretation.

The vice presidency of Dick Cheney is considered by many scholars to be one of the most powerful and far-reaching in U.S. history. Most other vice presidents’ attempts at executive-branch power grabs have been unsuccessful, according to the Las Vegas Sun. Lyndon B. Johnson, who served as Democratic Senate Majority Leader, sought to hold onto the chairmanship of the Democratic policy committee as vice president, however members of his party objected. John Adams and Spiro Agnew made similar bids that were shot down.

“Every vice president who has tried to be assertive has been restrained by the Senate,” said Associate Senate Historian Donald Ritchie. “Usually the vice president gets the hint and goes back to the White House.”

Background: The legacy of Cheney, and Biden’s plans for the future

Before taking the job of vice president, Cheney had substantial government experience, having served as White House chief of staff, secretary of defense and as a congressman from Wyoming. Some observers say his experience and knowledge of Washington politics helped him to concentrate so much power in the executive branch, wrote The Washington Times.

Cheney has not expressed regret over the course of his vice presidency, insisting that his actions are justifiable. “There’s no contract, job description, being vice president,” he said in an interview this year. His involvement in the planning of the war in Iraq and the 2005 energy bill are evidence of Cheney’s executive power.

Biden lambasted Cheney during the 2008 vice presidential debate in St. Louis. “Vice President Cheney has been the most dangerous vice president we’ve had probably in American history,” Biden said. “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.”

Biden also expressed his view of the position: “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.”

Although Biden has been a fierce critic of Cheney’s vice presidential powers, when he was picked as Obama’s running mate he told The New Yorker magazine that he planned to take an active role. “I don’t want to be a vice president who is not part of the major decisions you make,” Biden said, according to The Washington Times.

Biden’s role in Obama’s administration is further complicated by Obama’s picks for cabinet, particularly Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. The president-elect has chosen a staff of seasoned, prominent Washington-insiders, and, according to CNN, “some are wondering if Vice President-elect Joe Biden is running out of room.”

Related Topic: “Do Vice Presidents Matter?”

Reference: U.S. government


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