Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Would Congress Confirm A New Vice President?

Today's assassination attempt on Dick Cheney raises the intriguing question of whether the 110th Congress would confirm a Republican as Vice President under the 25th Amendment. With South Dakota Democratic Senator Tim Johnson still unable to report for duty, the Democrats hold a razor-thin 50-49 advantage on the days when Joe Lieberman decides that he feels like being a Democrat. And with so many of the senators, both R and D, running for president, the outcome of actual votes in the Senate on any given day is a true toss-up. This is, therefore, one of those times when the Vice President's only constitutional duties -- presiding over the Senate and breaking ties -- actually makes a difference.

The last time that the 25th Amendment was called into play, the Vice Presidency was vastly different from what it is today. Nelson Rockefeller was the last Vice President who was really a seat-warmer. (Dan Quayle might have been a lightweight, but he had a West Wing office and Poppy Bush did give him an actual policy portfolio.) When Rockefeller left office, Jimmy Carter is rightly credited with having raised the profile of the VP office by giving Walter Mondale a West Wing office and relying on him as a trusted advisor.

Dick Cheney has vastly magnified the influence of the office, yet he operates in the shadows. I wonder, therefore, whether a Democratic Congress might rationally decide that it is better to have no Vice President at all than it would be to fill the office if it were to become vacant for the remainder of the 110th Congress.