Saturday, October 04, 2008

Biden Confused on the Constitution

Over at Powerline, John posts on how Biden showed a lack of understanding about the Constitution during his debate with Palin. The question to Palin:
Governor, you mentioned a moment ago the constitution might give the vice president more power than it has in the past. Do you believe as Vice President Cheney does, that the Executive Branch does not hold complete sway over the office of the vice presidency, that it it is also a member of the Legislative Branch?
And Biden's eventual answer (emphasis by John):
Vice President Cheney has been the most dangerous vice president we've had probably in American history. The idea he doesn't realize that Article I of the Constitution defines the role of the vice president of the United States, that's the Executive Branch. He works in the Executive Branch. He should understand that. Everyone should understand that.

And the primary role of the vice president of the United States of America is to support the president of the United States of America, give that president his or her best judgment when sought, and as vice president, to preside over the Senate, only in a time when in fact there's a tie vote. The Constitution is explicit.

The only authority the vice president has from the legislative standpoint is the vote, only when there is a tie vote. He has no authority relative to the Congress. The idea he's part of the Legislative Branch is a bizarre notion invented by Cheney to aggrandize the power of a unitary executive and look where it has gotten us. It has been very dangerous.

There are some problems with the parts emphasized, above.
First of all, he gets wrong one of the most basic facts about the Constitution: Article 1 establishes the legislative branch, not, as Biden said, the executive branch. This is not exactly an obscure fact; my 17-year-old daughter pointed it out at the time.

Second, it simply isn't true that the Constitution treats the Vice President only as a member of the executive branch. The Vice President is mentioned in Article II as part of the executive branch, but he is also given legislative powers by Section 3 of Article 1, which establishes the Senate:
The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.
Vice President Cheney's "bizarre notion" is in keeping with the plain text of the Constitution.

Finally, Biden misstated the Vice President's role in the Senate. It isn't true that he "preside[s] over the Senate, only in a time when in fact there's a tie vote." The Constitution contemplates that the Vice President will be the full-time President of the Senate, replaced by a President pro tempore "in the absence of the Vice President." It's true that the Vice President only gets to vote in case of a tie; but, of course, that's the only time it matters.
Now, as John also notes, this lack of understanding of the Constitution isn't going to cost Obama-Biden any votes. But what he doesn't mention is the difference in treatment Biden gets by the media compared to Palin.

Palin asked for clarification of the "Bush Doctrine"--a term that has four different meanings associated with it. The media reacted as if Palin started drooling on the floor during the interview. See!? She isn't qualified! Biden shows a clear lack of understanding on what the Constitution says about the Vice President's role in the Senate--he has been a Senator for more than thirty years--and the media shrugs and looks the other way.

Can you imagine if Palin were quizzed about the Constitution during an interview and showed the lack of understanding that Biden did?

1 comment:

Jenn said...

"First of all, he gets wrong one of the most basic facts about the Constitution: Article 1 establishes the legislative branch, not, as Biden said, the executive branch."

If you notice the question was about the what VP's role as a member of the executive branch is or should be in the LEGISLATIVE branch. The VPs role in the legislature is defined in ARTICLE I not Article II. Bidens's answer is perfectly correct given the context of the question. You even notice this fact later on, maybe you don't get it.

Secondly, the VP is "President" of the senate in title only.... Having absolutely NO real powers or authority EXCEPT in the event of ties. A president with no power doesn't really preside over anything. Unless of course there is a tie, like Biden said.