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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Another Cheney?

Stephen Griffin

Yesterday Peter Canellos, the respected national political reporter for the Boston Globe, had an article arguing that the next president might profitably take advantage of the precedent VP Cheney has established for the office. Canellos described the office today as a sort of “prime minister.” But it would be a terrible idea to continue the Cheney precedent in the next presidency, whether Democrat or Republican.

I’m not opposed to presidents giving the VP specific (and public) duties that aid the functioning of the executive branch. The targeted policy responsibilities given to such recent VPs as Dan Quayle and Al Gore appear to have been beneficial. However, as detailed in a 2007 WP series, Cheney’s assumption of power was of a different order entirely. One of the institutional similarities that ties together Watergate, Iran-contra, and Bush II is that some element in the Executive Office of the Presidency “goes operational” – acquires the kind of line authority normally granted only to departments and agencies by statute. These departments are run by presidential appointees responsive to the chief executive. Responsibility is a two-way street – appointees must carry out presidential policy (without forgetting about the statutes they administer), but presidents also need their direct unmediated advice.

There is plenty of evidence that during the Bush II administration, Cheney’s office, always intensely secretive, went operational and injected itself into the executive chain of command with disastrous results. Intelligence, military commissions, and the development of interrogation policy were just three of the best known examples. The problems with this were manifold. Cheney could exercise substantial influence outside the regular line of presidential authority without anyone being sure whether he had presidential backing. There was plenty of opportunity to shape agendas and debates in a way that would influence what the president would hear and so reinforce Cheney’s view of policy and executive power as against the president’s own appointees.

Canellos asks, in effect, what’s wrong with this? Isn’t the VP elected? Doesn’t election give the VP a superior claim of legitimacy as against any nonelected adviser? But this point conceals several fallacies. The VP’s electoral pedigree is a red herring as long as the office is constitutionally subordinate to the elected president. And those advisers? Some are appointed by the president directly, others with the advice and consent of the Senate. Either way, their relationship with the president is constitutionally legitimate and shouldn’t be obstructed by VP meddling. And what if the president allows or encourages the VP to meddle? The results you can judge for yourself! Unless the President clearly spells out the lines of authority in public (and nothing seems to have been committed to paper in Cheney’s case) the results can undermine statutory lines of authority painstakingly created over decades to ensure the president not only can carry out his policies but gets the advice he needs before making difficult decisions. When part of the White House secretly goes operational, experience shows the results always rebound against the presidency.




Comments:

The TV series "West Wing" had some interesting subplots concerning the role of a Vice President. Apparently originalism fails to provide much of a guide to the modern day role of the VP. Here in MA back in the 1980s we had a Lt. Governor (Tip O'Neill's son) who was not on the same wave length as Governor Ed King that provided quite a bit of political intrigue, although on a much smaller scale than in "West Wing." So perhaps living constitutionalism has come into play. Think of Woodrow Wilson's illness and the role of Mrs. Wilson in contrast to the then VP. Think of the "warm bucket of spit" description of the role of VP. More productive use of FOIA may yet reveal in the case of Cheney how much he has changed the role of VP. Perhaps the next step might be a VP going public against his President on matters of policy or even principle.
 

The only difference between the President's first appointment - the VP - and his later appointments is that the VP only has the portfolio delegated by the President, while the others start with a pre-established portfolio.

I see nothing sacred about bureaucratic channels of power. The President's subordinates often attempt to influence Executive policy beyond their portfolios. Some old hands, like Mr. Cheney, are simply better at it than others. Secretaries of State like Henry Kissinger have dominated policy at least to the same extent as Cheney. There is nothing wrong with this so long as the elected President makes the final decisions. Mr. Bush did so.
 

Unless the President clearly spells out the lines of authority in public (and nothing seems to have been committed to paper in Cheney’s case) ...

Oh, it varies by day to day, depending on which court or other legal authority is asking.....

If you're asking that he follow the laws laid down for the "executive", he's a Congressman. And if you want to subpoena his aides, he's got "executive privilege". And go f*ck yourself too. "We doan need no steenkin' badges...."

;-)

Cheers,
 

"Bart" DeDicta is a litle slow on his Con-sti-too-shun-ull law:

The only difference between the President's first appointment - the VP

Huh?!?!?

Given that he's mistaken on that, the rest of his post is based on false premises.

Secretaries of State like Henry Kissinger have dominated policy at least to the same extent as Cheney.

Don't you think that a better example would be Alexander "I'm in control here" Haig? ;-)

Cheers,
 

arne:

Are you under the misapprehension that someone apart from the President chooses the VP?
 

Bart,

I think that Arne is under the impression that the President does not appoint the VP. He's right. A presidential candidate chooses his running mate. The running mate is then elected VP.
 

As any Star Wars fan will inform you, there are, at any time, only two Sith Lords. At present, they are clearly marked as Darth Cheney and Darth Addington. That leaves no room, at present, for a repetition of the disaster of the Cheney/Bush Presidency.

Seriously, the concatenation of an incurious, easily-manipulated individual as President and a master manipulator as VP strikes me as an unlikely occurrence. A strong President, or even one who is minimally aware of manipulation, would surely step on a VP who tried to insert themselves into the chain of command like Cheney has.

Oh, and Bart, I'm surprised at your question. As you will surely recall, Cheney was chosen by Cheney as the nominee for VP. After that there was the formality of getting elected, or at least installed by the SC.
 

"Bart" DeDicta:

Are you under the misapprehension that someone apart from the President chooses the VP?

Yes. Quite the misapprehension:

U.S. Constitution, Amendment XII:

"The electors shall meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President, and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate;--The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted;--the person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice. And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, then the Vice-President shall act as President, as in the case of the death or other constitutional disability of the President. The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States."

Cheers,
 

billposer:

The running mate is then elected VP.

"usually, but not necessarily, ...."

Cheers,
 

At our Moooslim Infidel here, Ethyl al-Cajal:

Oh, and Bart, I'm surprised at your question. As you will surely recall, Cheney was chosen by Cheney as the nominee for VP.

Good point. Forgot about that easy rejoinder..... And it's far funnier than mine. ;-)

Cheers,
 

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