Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Vice presidential duties

Two interesting quotes from Sarah Palin:

From the debate: "Well, our founding fathers were very wise there in allowing through the Constitution much flexibility there in the office of the vice president. "

From a third grader's question: "[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."

A lot has been made of these quotes as showing a lack of understanding on her part about what the Vice President does. In fact she (or someone she's working with) may know a lot more than we think. In fact, the Vice President is in charge of the senate, and presides over the Senate, period. If the Vice President is away (which is usually), then a President Pro Tem is elected.

But what if Sarah Palin is telling us she intends to be an activist Vice President?

An activist president of the Senate could do a lot of things that would essentially hold the senate hostage, preventing it from getting anything done until such time she sees fit. As an example, a cloture vote. What if the President of the senate simply refuses to call a cloture vote on a bill she doesn't like? She's a one-woman filibuster, one that can't be voted down.

What if she shuts down the Senate and refuses to open proceedings unless she gets her way on a specific bill? These are actually enormous powers, they have just never been used, and I suspect that Sarah Palin could be preparing to use them.

Why? Well for one, she is the leading Neocon, now that George the W. has started to quack. The people behind Dubya (in particular David Addington, legal enabler for Dick Cheney) have already been at it, inventing all kinds of new powers for the President and Vice President. Remember the idea that the Veep is not a member of the executive branch? Remember the "Nuclear option"? That depended on the role of the Vice President, as President of the Senate, to rule on a point of order requiring only a majority vote for cloture henceforth. So clearly they're thinking about it.

Why hasn't it ever happened? 1) The Senate is a very (small-c) conservative and tradition-bound body. 2) Nobody's ever tried it. Remember that since Addington's been in office, it's never been that useful for the Veep to throw his weight around in the Senate -- the Senate is a largely ineffective body since 2000. Even in Democratic hands, with Joe Lieberman casting the 51st vote, the Senate is no barrier to the powers of the imperial executive. However, with a very Democratic Senate, the Vice President all of a sudden makes it possible to shut down congress completely.

What recourse would congress have? Well, they could consider that an abuse of power and decide to impeach the VP. But her sentencing would go to the Senate, where, guess what, it never comes up for a vote. Constitutional crisis time, and the Supreme Court is asked to decide. Which way will the Roberts court go, strict constructionists that they are?

I wonder...

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