What Hillary Clinton Needs to Offer a VP

In a recent post, I suggested that John Edwards and other high-profile Democrats would not be interested in being Vice President in a Hillary Clinton administration. I’d like to elaborate on that topic here.

The U.S. Constitution only assigns two significant responsibilities to the Vice President: he gets to cast tie-breaking votes in the Senate and succeeds the President if circumstances require a new one before the next scheduled election. (He also gets to preside over the counting of the votes submitted to the Senate by the Electoral College but this is a ceremonial task with no real power.)

Originally, the office of Vice President was viewed as insignificant. John Adams described it as “the most insignificant office ever the invention of man contrived”.  Other politicians have made similar comments; see the Wikipedia article about the Vice President of the United States for examples.  Vice President John C. Calhoun even resigned from the office in 1832 because he felt he would have more power as a Senator. (The funny thing is that he actually served as under two different Presidents, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson,  before figuring this out.)

The office of Vice President did become more important when FDR began the tradition of including the VP in cabinet meetings.  But it wasn’t until 1976 that the VP got his own office in the West Wing of the White House. The Wikipedia article mentioned above indicates that George H.W. Bush, Al Gore, and Dick Cheney were amongst the few Vice Presidents to wield extensive influence within the administrations they served.  So, we’ve gotten used to stronger VPs in recent years. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

While Hillary Clinton denied in an ABC/Nightline interview yesterday that Bill Clinton would be a “Co-President”, he would clearly be the most influential person in her administration even if he did not attend cabinet meetings. So, her VP could not really expect to have as much influence as Bush, Gore, and Cheney did.  This is the main reason why Edwards would not want to be Clinton’s Vice President. Given the recent animosity in the race, I think Obama would be even less interested.

Note that Hillary could pick Bill as her VP running mate if she wanted to; while the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution prevents Bill Clinton from being elected President again, it does not prevent him from being elected Vice President. In fact, he could even become President again if Hillary died or resigned during one of her terms. But given the fact that Hillary has indicated that America does not want a Co-President, it seems unlikely that she will pick Bill.

What could Hillary Clinton do to make the VP job attractive to potential candidates? I think she would have to promise her running mate some sort of special role within her administration beyond being a member of her cabinet.  Ideally, she would put her VP in charge of some specific issue that he cared about deeply or that allowed him to do something important and highly visible. For instance, she could offer Edwards the role of “Czar of Poverty Reduction” or Bill Richardson the role of “Ambassador in charge of Climate Change Negotiations”.  Alternatively, she could find someone interested in becoming “Czar of Energy Independence”.  However, if she does offer her VP a special role like these, she needs to be careful to not create a situation in which her VP ends up in a power struggle with some other member of her cabinet such as the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Energy.


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