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What is the Job of the United States Vice President?

Jessica Ellis
Updated May 17, 2024
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The United States Vice President is the second-in-command of the Executive branch of US government. Elected as a team with the President, the Vice President, also called the VP or Veep, is often chosen at least in part for his ability to help the Presidential candidate win the election. After voting has ended and the President and VP are sworn in, many Vice Presidents seem to vanish into the White House, leading many to wonder exactly what their job requires.

Originally, Vice Presidents did not run on an election ticket with a presidential candidate. Instead, they were the person who came in second in the race for president, often resulting in bitter political rivals forced to share the government for four years. John Adams, the first VP, had no qualms at describing the job as useless and pointless, as his ideas were constantly subverted at the whim of President George Washington.

In 1804, the United States Congress passed the 12th Amendment to the US Constitution, providing that presidential and vice-presidential candidates run separate races. This amendment remains in effect today, despite the fact party candidates for the offices run together. If no vice-presidential candidate receives an Electoral College majority, the US Senate chooses the VP, even if their choice is of a different party. This has only occurred once in history, when Virginia’s electoral delegates refused to vote for the VP candidate running with Martin Van Buren. The Senate chose to elect Van Buren’s partner anyway, but many wonder what would happen if this occurred again.

The Vice President is the President of the US Senate. While he does not really control anything in the Senate, he is called on to be the tie-breaking vote if the Senate is deadlocked. They also oversee procedural issues and preside over impeachment trials, unless the person impeached is the President. In that case, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court oversees the trial. The VP is not usually to be found in everyday Senate meetings, instead allowing a senate-chosen President pro tempore to preside over usual proceedings.

The second official job of the Vice President is to take over the Presidency if the President resigns, dies or is impeached and removed from office, as outlined by the 25th Amendment of the Constitution of America. This has happened nine times in US history, beginning with the succession of President Tyler upon the death of President William Henry Harrison, and most recently with President Gerald Ford replacing President Nixon after Nixon’s resignation from office.

In addition to the two main duties, the Vice President usually performs whatever function the President deems necessary. Some have chosen to get involved with domestic issues, or have acted as the President’s representative to foreign governments. The VP may also serve in an advisory capacity to the President, but this is not always the case. The power of the office is largely determined by the relationship between the President and the VP. Frequently, the two holders of the offices have been political rivals or even enemies, and the VP is occasionally resigned to relatively low-impact work.

Nonetheless, the role of the VP is a vital one to the stability of the nation. By insuring that the succession will go directly to the VP in the event of the President’s death, the opportunities for panic and chaos are severely reduced. If the President and Vice President enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship, the Vice President can be a powerful figure in Washington and across the nation, even leading to their own future success as a candidate for President.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for America Explained. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.
Discussion Comments
By GlassAxe — On Dec 24, 2010

@ Istria- Various former vice presidents have taken different roles in the administration. Some do very little (see Dan Quayle). Others are more active (Al Gore, Dick Cheney). Al Gore was a top adviser to President Clinton on certain decisions, but mostly focused on his cause of reducing government waste and increasing bureaucratic efficiency. Vice President Cheney was likely one of the most powerful in history, whom many suspected really ran the show in the white house. President Cheney would often have emails routed to him and his staff without the original recipient even knowing. He was also the top adviser to the president, especially on foreign policy issues (something usually reserved for the secretary of state).

Vice President Biden is not taking up a cause, but he is active in the administration. He is not the top adviser to the President (that would be David Axelrod or Secretary Clinton), but he is one of the top advisers. He makes it a point not to step on the toes of any of the presidents other advisors, but he offers his experience as a top senator experienced in security and foreign policy. He plays a role of senior adviser to the President, but mostly keeps off camera and behind the scenes. He usually does not make public appearances unless he is backing the president up on a key issue being debated in the senate or if there are close elections that need a boost.

By istria — On Dec 22, 2010

What is Vice President Biden's role in the administration? I assume he is an ally to President Obama, but it often seems that his role in the Administration is limited.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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