What are the roles of the Vice President?

Anonymous asked this question on 7/31/2000:

What are duties and role of vice president of USA in modern time?

JesseGordon gave this response on 8/1/2000:

Al Gore has changed what the V.P.'s role is -- I think that hereafter, the V.P. will have a role, more or less equivalent to a cabinet-member-without-portfolio. (In other words, all other cabinet members have a department, like Treasury or State; the V.P. attends Cabinet meetings but doesn't have a particular department).

Gore's role was his "reinvention of government". The idea was to reform the federal government to be more in tune with the modern technological world. The result was a book called the "National Performance Review" with lots of recommendations (some of which actually got done). Excerpts from the readable form of the book appear at .

Gore's other big role was "point man" on environment and free trade.

On environment, he attended the Kyoto Conference on global warming, and made a real difference there (excerpts from his enviro book are at

On free trade, he pushed hard for NAFTA, GATT, and WTO, most famously debating Ross Perot on NAFTA on national television.

Those sorts of roles -- ambassador and debater -- are not quite new to the Vice Presidency, but they're certainly well-entrenched now.

If Bush wins, Cheney's role would likely be as a foreign policy negotiator, an ambassador-at-large for wold hot-spots. (Ask me again after Gore picks his V.P. and I'll speculate on his potential role).

npscott gave this response on 8/1/2000:

The Vice President of the U.S. has only one duty defined by the U.S. Constitution: to serve as President of the U.S. Senate.

This question came up in a different form recently, and I asked the Senate Historian's office why the Vice President was made President of the U.S. Senate. The assistant historian responded:

Senate Historian's Office
June 24, 2000

"You'll find a good essay about the Vice President's role in the Senate on the Senate web page -- -- click on "Senate History" and look for "President of the Senate"
in the briefings column.

"The short answer is this:

1) "First, if a member of the Senate also acted as president of the Senate, that member would have to be deprived of his vote on any issue. By placing the VP as constitutional president of the Senate, all members were free to vote.

"To avoid the Vice President canceling out a member's vote, he was given the right to vote only when there was a tie to be broken.

2) Second, if the VP was not president of the Senate, many of the delegates feared the VP would have nothing to do except wait around for the President to die."

Betty K. Koed
Assistant Historian
U.S. Senate Historical Office

However, in addition to the only Constitutional duty of the Vice President, ever since the Eisenhower Administration, Presidents have assigned duties to their Vice Presidents, to head various commissions, etc.

[President Eisenhower frequently sent Vice President Richard Nixon out of the country, or diplomatic missions. Nixon was nearly killed on one of these missions, in South America, when his car was attacked by a huge mob.]

Other assignments have been less dangerous. For instance, in the 1996 Democratic Platform, the Vice President (VP Al Gore) was pledged to head up a Committee to investigate things the federal government could do to improve airport security.

Today's Vice Presidents manage to keep themselves gainfully employed, and work long and hard hours on government tasks.

These extra-curricular duties are not in law, however, and are undertaken at the President's request and pleasure only.


A viewer asked this question on 7/21/2000:

Since the vice president is not directly elected by the people (only the president), could the president fire him if he failed to perform or performed in opposition to the president?

stevehaddock gave this response on 7/22/2000:

I have to directly disagree with MadPol's response.

First, the vice-president is directly elected by the people. The vice-president is part of his party's ticket, just like the president. As such, he can only be impeached. He can't be fired by the president.

Spiro Agnew, the only vice-president to resign, did so when allegations of bribery against him during his term as the Governor of Maryland made it clear he would be impeached if he stayed on. Prior to the passing of the 21st amendment to the U.S. constitution, the vice-president could not be replaced if he didn't complete his term. In fact, Lyndon Johnson served the rest of Kennedy's term without a vice-president for this very reason. In fact, mostly because the vice-president has replaced the president on the latter's death several times, the office of vice-president had been vacant several times during U.S. history.

In addition, the new choice for vice-president has to be approved by the Senate. Only two men have had to go through this process - Gerald Ford who replaced Spiro Agnew and Nelson Rockefeller who replaced.... Gerald Ford when Ford became president.

However, the cabinet is appointed by the President with the approval of the Senate. Cabinet members, and other members of the White House Staff, serve at the pleasure of the president and can be dismissed at any time. The only exception was during Reconstruction when Congress passed a law stating that no cabinet officer could be dismissed without consent of Congress. It was Andrew Johnson's direct violation of this law in firing a cabinet officer that led to his impeachment and his subsequent near conviction.

Most vice-president's, however, agree with the president in most things. For one thing, most presidents serve more than one term, and the choice of the vice-presidential candidate for the second term is solely that of the presidential candidate, not the party. FDR went through four vice-presidents, one for each term. Secondly, most vice-presidents use the post for their own political ambitions and rarely try to go in their own direction - generally that would be against the direction of their own party.

Of course, in the early U.S., that wasn't the way at all. The vice-president was the person who finished in second place in the vote by members of Congress. As such, the president and vice-president often were from different political parties and, like John Adams (the abolitionist and federalist) and Thomas Jefferson (the slave holder and states rights advocate), were at each others throats throughout their terms.

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