The odd, hybrid world of the vice presidency

Political Theater, Episode 146

Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker Paul Ryan conduct a count of the Electoral College votes during a joint session of Congress in the House chamber on Jan. 6, 2017. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker Paul Ryan conduct a count of the Electoral College votes during a joint session of Congress in the House chamber on Jan. 6, 2017. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Jason Dick
Posted October 8, 2020 at 5:29pm

The vice presidency is a strange office, a hybrid of both the executive branch and the legislative branch. The occupant breaks ties on Senate votes and can preside over the counting of their own electoral votes in a joint session of Congress. So Wednesday night’s vice presidential debate between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris carried with it more significance as we brace for a possibly disputed election, a Supreme Court nomination fight and, oh yeah, health and age questions surrounding the men at the top of their tickets.

Former Vice President John “Cactus Jack” Garner described the vice presidency as “not worth a bucket of warm piss.” A lot has changed since Garner was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first veep, and judging from the ferocious competition to be politics’ most famous No. 2, it is probably worth a bit more these days.

Which brings us to the current Republican vice president, Pence, and the Democrat who wants to replace him, California’s junior senator, Harris.

With President Donald Trump knocked off the trail by his COVID-19 diagnosis, Pence has become the campaign’s most prominent surrogate. And Harris is about to assume a prominent role as she leaves the trail to take part in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Supreme Court hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, where she will likely use her time to call attention to issues she feels will be to the advantage of the Biden-Harris ticket.

With us on this edition of Political Theater to break down the debate, the significance of the vice presidency and how a veep candidate can affect not just the presidential race but Senate and House campaigns up and down the line are CQ Roll Call chief correspondent Niels Lesniewski and elections analyst Nathan L. Gonzales.

Show Notes: