Wednesday, August 5, 2020

United States: Joe Biden is about to choose his running mate, but what good is a vice-president?

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The end of the suspense is imminent. Joe Biden had promised to announce the name of his running mate during the first week of August. It is therefore a question of hours or days (he had assured in March that it would be a woman). Among the favorites for this ticket for the US presidential election on November 3 against Donald Trump, are Senator Kamala Harris, diplomat Susan Rice or the mayor of Atlanta Keisha Lance Bottoms.

The running mate has vocation, in the event of victory, to become the vice-president of the country. This would be a historic first since this function has never been occupied by a woman, only two defeated candidates having chosen a running mate in the past.

A limited constitutional role

If the choice of a candidate’s running mate is scrutinized very closely, it is because of the growing power granted to the vice-president for several decades. Theoretically, the American Constitution only grants him a potential role: that of replacing the president in the event of death or resignation. “He is only a sort of crow on the grave waiting to be able to preside,” illustrates Jean-Eric Branaa, lecturer at the University of Assas-Paris II and specialist in the United States.

This has happened nine times in history, reports the website of the State Department (eight times after a death and once after a resignation, that of Richard Nixon at Watergate in 1974).

The Vice President of the United States is also the Vice President of the Senate. But this function is only largely honorary, since it only grants the power to decide between the 100 senators in the event of a tie on a vote.

A growing influence since Jimmy Carter

In fact, the power and influence of the vice-president “depend on what the president wants to do with it”, underlines Jean-Eric Branaa. A first turning point took place under Jimmy Carter, who granted his vice-president Walter Mondale (1977-1981) a permanent office in the west wing of the White House.

But, “if the modern period dates back to Jimmy Carter, it was Bill Clinton (1997-2001) who gave real power to a vice president,” the political scientist said. Al Gore indeed had a real corporate project and he had a very powerful role in foreign policy. We have seen him negotiate on behalf of the United States on the international political scene. “

Al Gore was particularly involved in the negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to fight against global warming signed on December 11, 1997. On December 8, he spoke solemnly at the conference podium, as the shows this report from France 2.

From 2001, Dick Cheney had a very important influence with George W. Bush. Some observers even consider him to be the real instigator of the particularly sharp and bellicose American reaction after September 11. “Anyone who has followed the Iraq war knows Dick Cheney. Many criticize him for having gained the upper hand over Bush, ”notes Jean-Eric Branaa.

Electoral issue

Having been Barack Obama’s vice-president himself between 2009 and 2017, Joe Biden knows the job better than anyone. The two got along particularly well throughout the eight-year mandate. “I am literally the last to stay in the room with the president, that’s how we operate,” he said in 2012.

Before eventually becoming vice-president of the country, the running mate of a presidential candidate also serves an electoral purpose: that of bringing more voters to oneself. Personality, origins … Many ingredients to make it the most complementary personality must be brought together. The result of the recipe concocted by Joe Biden is now imminent.

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